A civil rights controversy involving the right of Native American students to wear an eagle feather with their caps and gowns at graduation erupted at Lemoore High in the days leading up to Thursday night's commencement ceremony.
School administrators had told eight Native American seniors — a record number to graduate at the same time from Lemoore High — that the eagle feathers would be banned.
Hours before the graduation ceremony, the administration relented and allowed Native American graduates, of whom seven are enrolled members of the Tachi tribe near Lemoore, to wear eagle feathers.
The students had told parents and relatives that Principal Rodney Brumit said the school's "no adornment" policy for graduation caps and gowns would be enforced.
A lawyer for California Indian Legal Services in Eureka contacted Lemoore Union High School District and sought an exception on grounds that for many Native Americans, the eagle feather is a highly revered honor given to mark great personal achievement.
But lawyer Delia Parr said she was told by the district's lawyer that the policy is meant to keep the event dignified, is stated in the parent-student handbook handed out at the beginning of the year, and no exception would be made.
"We get a number of these complaints, and usually the school district respects the spirituality and cultural diversity" of Native American traditions and religion, she said.
Thursday afternoon, she wrote a letter to the district that was co-signed by California Indian Legal Services, the ACLU of Northern California and the Native American Rights Fund.
Tachi tribe member Anita Baga, who took up the cause on behalf of nephew Bryce Baga, said Brumit called her midafternoon Thursday to say the eagle feathers would be allowed.
"We're so excited about this," she said. "This is not a Tachi Yokut thing; it's for all our kids."
School board president Kathy Neves said that when she learned about the controversy, she advised Superintendent Debbie Muro that graduates should be allowed to wear eagle feathers with their caps and gowns.
"I think we could make an exception," Neves said. "I don't think it's a big deal. It'll just look like a tassel is hanging down."
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