Target: Escambia Academy High School Administration
Goal: Ensure that a Native American high school graduate receives her diploma without paying a fine and overturn the discriminatory graduation attire policy.
Like all other high school seniors, Chelsey Ramer recently donned a cap and gown and proudly attended her graduation at Escambia Academy High School in Alabama. When she went to pick up her diploma, however, the school withheld it along with her transcripts and told her she would be charged a $1,000 fine simply because she wore an eagle feather during the ceremony. Ramer is a member of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians and had looked forward to wearing the feather at graduation as a symbol of cultural pride. Her former teacher Alex Alvarez explains, “Being honored with a feather for graduation is a wonderful experience. It’s a lot more than showing off your culture. It has ties into our spirituality as well.”
Two months prior to graduation, Ramer and other Native American students requested permission to wear the feathers from the former headmaster Betty Warren. Warren denied the request and told the students that they would be pulled off the field. The administration then sent out a student contract stating that students would not be allowed to wear “extraneous items” during the ceremony lest they be denied their diplomas and charged a fine. Ramer says she never signed it.
Schools should encourage students to honor their heritage, especially at an event that celebrates the students’ achievements. Not only is the school’s reaction shameful and the fine exorbitant, but the policy itself violates the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. The law states that Native Americans have the right to express their traditional religions, which includes “use and possession of sacred objects.” Sign the petition below to demand that the school grant Ramer her diploma without the fine, issue a public apology, and remove the policy from all future graduation ceremonies.
Dear Interim Headmaster David Walker and the Escambia Academy High School Board of Directors,
Escambia Academy High School, like all other educational institutions, should celebrate the cultural and spiritual diversity of its students and encourage students to honor the heritage. As evidenced by the policies regarding the 2013 graduation ceremony, however, it appears that Escambia Academy has failed to fulfill this responsibility.
Chelsey Ramer joined her fellow students on May 23 to commemorate their achievement of graduating from Escambia Academy High School. As a member of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians, Chelsey was also excited to wear an eagle feather along with her cap and gown. After seeing graduating seniors wear feathers in previous years, she had looked forward to the day when she would be able to share in the tradition. The eagle feather is not an “extraneous item” as described by the student contract regarding graduation attire; it is an honor to wear the feather as a symbol of cultural and spiritual pride. It is because of her steadfast commitment to her beliefs that Chelsey refused to sign the ridiculous contract before the ceremony.
It is unclear whether the denial of Chelsey’s right to wear the feather is due to ignorance or racism. But it is clear that the school’s withholding of her diploma and transcript and the $1,000 fine is outrageous. Furthermore, this type of discrimination is illegal under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which guarantees Native Americans the right to express their religions including the “use and possession of sacred objects.” We demand that Escambia Academy give Chelsey Ramer her diploma, rescind the exorbitant fine, issue a public apology, and remove the policy from all future graduation ceremonies.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: BirdingInSpain via Wikimedia Commons