Chelsey Ramer, a Native American student, is being denied her high school diploma until she pays a $1,000 fine for wearing a tribal feather on her cap during her graduation from Escambia Academy High School in Atmore, Alabama.
The 17-year-old is a member of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and wore the eagle feather to celebrate her heritage in defiance of the school's "no extraneous items" policy.
“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,” Ramer told Indian Country Today Media Network. Their headmaster said no, and threatened to pull them off the field if they wore them to graduation.
The school then sent a contract for graduating seniors to sign before the May 23 commencement, banning "extraneous items during graduation exercises," and imposing the fine. But Ramer told WPMI-TV that she never signed it. “I don’t think it’s fair at all,” the teen said. “I feel like its discrimination.”
Ramer walked without incident at her graduation while wearing the feather in her mortarboard, though she says administrators were upset. Of the other three Native seniors at Escambia, one wore a feather on a necklace and did not face any disciplinary actions, while the other two did not wear a feather at all for fear of being fined.
When Ramer visited administration on May 29 to speak with Headmaster Betty Warren, she was told Warren had been fired. The girls’ basketball coach, David Walker, has replaced her as interim headmaster.
Ramer still does not have her diploma. She said after speaking to Coach Walker, “He said if it was up to him, he would give me my diploma… but he had to go through the board to get it approved.”
Alex Alvarez, who is Creek, a former teacher of Ramer’s said parents and tribal council members had requested to speak with the school board to discuss the eagle feather but were denied. He wrote about the issue in his local newspaper, but the school did not change its position.