June 01, 2013

Student fined for wearing feather

Poarch Creek Student Fined for Wearing Eagle Feather at Graduation

By Vincent SchillingAn Escambia Academy High School student who wore an eagle feather on her graduation cap was denied her diploma after graduating May 23. According to a contract issued by the school in Atmore, Alabama, 17-year-old Chelsey Ramer, of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians, would not receive her diploma or high school transcripts until she paid a $1,000 fine for wearing the feather.

“I feel like this wasn’t fair. It felt like it wasn’t legal,” Ramer said. “It really did hurt my feelings. I have watched others wear it and I looked forward to it my whole four years there. Now when it was my turn, [they said] I couldn’t.”

Ramer said American Indian seniors four years ago wore feathers to the school’s graduation, but because it was a surprise to the school, no action was taken.

“About two months ago, me and the other Indian seniors from the graduating class asked our headmaster if we could wear the feathers on our caps. She told us ‘no’ and that if we did, she would pull us off the field,” Ramer said.

Ramer says soon after their request, the school gave graduating students a contract that they had to sign or they would not be able to participate in graduation.

“I never signed that paper,” she said.

The contract outlined rules for what to wear at the graduation ceremony. It forbid any “extraneous items during graduation exercises.” It also said students violating the contract would not get their diplomas until appropriate disciplinary actions were taken and students paid a $1,000 fine.
Comment:  If Ramer argues that the feather as a religious symbol, I'm not sure the school can ban it. Even if it's a private institution, and even if Ramer signed a contract, which she said she didn't do.

The contract may be legal, but it's ridiculous and bad PR to require a student to pay to graduate. If you pass the courses, you should get a diploma no matter what.

The parents said they'll pay rather than stall their daughter's education, but I'm betting they won't have to. The scorn heaped on the school will force the board to change its position.

For more on school graduation protests, see Tribe Threatens Boycott Over Honor Song.

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