A private high school in Alabama has denied a graduating senior her diploma and fined her $1,000 because she wore an eagle feather during her graduation ceremony.
Escambia Academy High School senior Chelsey Ramer dangled the feather on her mortarboard as a show of pride in her Native American heritage, reports WPMI-TV
Ramer, 17, is a member of the Poarch Creek Band of Creek Indians.
“I was excited,” she told WPMI, in a deep Alabama drawl.
Ramer told the local NBC affiliate that she had explicitly sought permission from the Escambia Academy headmaster to wear the eagle feather at the May 23 graduation.
“She told us we could not wear our feathers,” said Ramer.
“They told me that if I wore it that they would pull me off the field,” the senior also explained.
There was also a dress-code contract, which states: “Students and staff shall not wear extraneous items during graduation exercises unless approved by the administration.”
However, Ramer told WPMI that she never signed the contract.
The senior did apparently walk across the graduation state with her feather intact. It’s not clear how school officials handled the situation right there and then. School officials have since told Ramer that she must pay the $1,000 fine if she wants her diploma and access to her transcripts.
“I don’t think it’s fair at all. I feel like it’s kind of discrimination against me,” Ramer said.
The newly-minted high school graduate said she doesn’t regret her actions, despite the resulting kerfuffle.
“Somebody’s gotta do it,” she said. “Somebody’s gotta make a stand.”
“It was worth it. It means a lot to me,” she added.
According to the Escambia Academy 2012-13 handbook, the school is not officially church-sponsored but it does offer a noticeably Christian atmosphere. For example, “every class has a daily devotion during homeroom. In most cases, this routine consists of prayer, Bible reading, and/or a devotional.”
Full-price tuition at the Atmore, Alabama school is $3,420 per year.
The Poarch Creek Indians are the only federally-recognized tribe of Native Americans in Alabama. According to its website, the tribe descends from the original Creek Nation, which once lived in the much of the land that is now Alabama and Georgia. The tribe’s reservation is located eight miles from Atmore.
Poarch Creek Indian Gaming operates three Alabama casinos.