Principal replaced after denying high school graduate her diploma for dancing during ceremony
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A Philadelphia principal has been replaced after refusing to hand over high school diplomas to at least two students who prompted audience reactions at their graduation ceremonies.
Lisa Mesi sparked controversy with her response to the students, in particular Hafsah Abdur-Rahman, whose rejection went viral after being caught on camera last month.
The heartbreaking footage showed Hafsah excitedly walking and dancing across the stage, causing an audience member to laugh as she prepared for the milestone moment of accepting her diploma from the Philadelphia High School for Girls.
Her excitement turned to 'embarrassment' when she was rejected by Mesi as she refused to give her the diploma.
It came after Mesi reportedly warned students about certain protocols they had to follow on the day, but Hafsah argued: "If they thought that I shouldn't do 'The Griddy' [dance] across the stage and do the Girls' High traditions, nobody should have been able to wave or blow kisses or do period signs because I feel like that's the same thing.
"I feel like that's unfair."
In another instance, a student flipped her hair and made a gesture while on the stage, causing an audience member to clap.
Former students from the school rallied around the principal after news of the Mesi's responses came to light, describing her in a statement as a 'compassionate leader and outspoken advocate' for students.
"We are fortunate to have her shepherding our alma mater through incredibly difficult years - through city - wide budget cuts, policy changes and a global pandemic that magnified every obstacle the faculty, administration and our dear little sisters have faced," the statement added.
However, the School District of Philadelphia responded to the incident to say it 'does not condone the withholding of earned diplomas', and apologised to those impacted.
"[We] are further looking into this matter to avoid it happening in the future," the district added.
Part of the district's efforts to prevent a similar event appears to be a change in leadership, with Mesi having been replaced by 'substitute principal' Janis Butler after four years on the job.
Philadelphia School District Associate Superintendent Tomás Hanna described the move as a 'temporary change in leadership', adding: “Dr. Butler is excited to support the school community to help set the stage for a successful 2023-2024 school year.”
“While this is the only information I can share at this time, I am committed to providing updates as additional information becomes available,” Hanna added.
It is currently unclear whether Mesi will be reinstated at the school in the future.