Native Americans

Stuck a Feather in Her Cap and Was Denied a High School Diploma

Whose graduation ceremony is it, anyway?


Chelsey Ramer
Chelsey Ramer

Here's some silliness at a high school in Alabama: A student of Escambia Academy High School was fined $1,000 and is being denied her diploma and her transcripts for wearing an eagle feather on her graduation cap to honor her Poarch Creek Indian heritage at her commencement ceremony.

Courtesy of Indian Country:

"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," [Chelsey] 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.

Escambia is a private school, so at least this authoritarian insult can't be blamed on the public school system. But also of note, when Ramer returned to the school to try to resolve the problem, she discovered the headmaster was no longer working for the school. She said she was told the woman was fired and a basketball coach at the school had taken over as a temporary headmaster. Nobody would tell Ramer, though, whether there was a relationship between her leaving and the controversy over the eagle feather, and the school is not responding to the press. Ramer apparently still does not yet have her diploma. If the headmaster did get booted over the eagle feather incident, that's an outcome you won't ever see at a public school without three years of investigations and disciplinary hearings.

I can only imagine this school leadership's reaction to my nephew's homeschool graduation a week ago. He played a bitchin' electric guitar solo right in the middle of it.

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  1. Escambia is a private school


    1. Ah, the school conducted itself in a sleazy, slimy manner, not to mention that it deliberately breached its own obligations.

      1. So what? Sleazy slimy shit happens all the time. If I want to read about that, I’d subscribe to The Enquirer. This is only worth a H&R post IF the Headmaster was actually fired as a result of this incident, as that would indicate a clear contrast to the management of public sector employees.

        As presented though, this is not worthy of H&R. Bah.

        1. Someone has a case of the Mondays!


  2. I can only imagine this school leadership’s reaction to my nephew’s homeschool graduation a week ago. He played a bitchin’ electric guitar solo right in the middle of it.

    No video Scott?

    1. Y’all too judgy.

      1. Which is exactly why we should judge the bitchin’-ness of any and all guitar solos.

  3. Look, it’s a private school – the headmaster specifically said not to do it, and they did it anyway. Very dickish, perhaps, but the students weren’t treated like public-school students and sandbagged with some bullshit rule they had no idea they were violating, like the Canadian student who fought the bully.

    And I bet that, for some New York John Stewart fan, this is the first he’s heard that nonwhites are attending private schools in Alabama. It would make their brains explode if they had any brains.

  4. It’s always better to ask forgiveness than permission.

    1. Not better, just easier.

  5. Did the headmaster have the authority to forbid the wearing of the indian feathers?

    Have you examined the by-laws of the school? Do they specifically forbid the wearing of indian feathers at graduation?

    As long as she passed her courses, Ramer is entitled to her diploma and to her transcripts.

    1. You don’t know much about private schools do you?

      1. They are better than public schools.

      2. A minor can’t sign a contract. Withholding final transcripts can cause problems with being able to complete enrollment in college once she arrives or enlist in the military. It’s hard to see how any principle of justice is served by this.

        1. Uh, then she wasn’t a student? Because if she can’t sign the contact, it’s void, so she was never there.

          1. Note that this was a contract that was handed out just before graduation. It was not a contract to attend the school.

        2. Which is why my “contract” with the Social Security Administration is invalid, and they should stop stealing my money.

    2. Yes, indeed Libertymike. Delighted to see an instance of a private school firing a teacher, if justified. If only all schools could do the same…

      Assuming her fees have all been paid, Ramer has done the work, passed the exams and is entitled to her diploma. Adding another hurdle for a student to jump at the last moment is unilateral and therefore an illegal and unconstitutional amendment to their contract/agreement, whether written or not.

    3. Did her folks pay the school’s tuition? Then give up the diploma and transcripts.

  6. Hey, at my public high school some thirty-four years ago, the school refused to give a graduating student his diploma because he wore bright orange socks under his graduation gown. They confiscated the socks, too.

    However, after it became the headline story in the local newspaper the following day, the school relented.

    Good to see how little changes in American education.

    1. I trust they also returned the socks. Otherwise it’s not confiscation, it’s illegal theft!

  7. Did the contract explicitly state the headmaster can deny her diploma for whatever reason?

    Heck, we can even bring in property rights. The school itself is not the personal property of the headmaster. And the money paid to the school is the student’s/parent’s property that was given for conditional exchange.

    When the school refuses to fulfill their part of the exchange, then they are committing theft.

    1. Since a minor can’t signe a binding contract I’m not really sure how that would impact it.

      1. If she’s graduating highschool, there’s a good chance she’s at least 18 and not a minor (and the supposed contract was supposed to have been signed just prior to graduation).

        However, she states she never signed it, so it’d be difficult for them to holder her to it.

        1. Age of majority in Alabama is 19.

  8. conditional exchange.

    One of those conditions is wearing the appropriate graduation attire as described in the student handbook.

    1. Is it?

      Do you have a copy of the student handbook?

      Did she or her parents sign a contract which unambiguously set forth that the school could refuse to award a diploma upon the basis of a student wearing indian feathers to the graduation ceremony?

      If not, the school loses.

      1. It’s on the schools website.

          1. So is the application for the recently vacated Headmaster position. I think a H&R regular could really do some good down there.

    2. It was a separate contract to attend graduation ceremony, and not to do with their enrollment contract (and thus reception of their diploma, outside of the ceremony)

      The article states:
      “I never signed that paper,” she said.

      So at worst, she should have been pulled from the ceremony, not have her diploma withheld.

      1. Except the graduation dress code is also in the student handbook.

  9. Here is what I don’t get. Why the fuck does she care about getting her diploma? No one is EVER going to ask to see it and even if she did how friggin hard is it to take one of her friends, scan it, digitally alter the name to hers and print out a new copy?

    The transcripts on the other hand are a seperate issue but I’d be willing to bet that the first time the school refused to supply them on this basis she’d have grounds for a pretty rock solid defamation of character suit

    1. I needed my college diploma to get a job in Korea, they made me send the original over. It was really confused since it’d never been treated as anything other than ceremonial.

      1. Yeah, its weird. My wife had to send copies of her diploma and her masters for her job.

      2. Yeah those people are idiots, a diploma is the ridiculously easy to fake, transcripts indicating you actually have the degree and what classes you took and what grades you got are the only thing that proves you have the education you claim to have.

        That said there is a huge difference between a college degree and a high school diploma

        1. Transcripts are actually easier to fake. Less fancy writing.

          1. Not usually because transcripts are generally requested directly from the school and not provided by the student. The student merely signs a paper authorizing the school to release the document to a 3rd party.

    2. But that, Rasilio, is also illegal. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

      Romer has done the work and is entitled to her certificate. But the headmistress needs to be named and shamed, that would help people like her learn to avoid such outrageously shameful behavior…

      1. No it wouldn’t be illegal, as you said, she did the work and earned the diploma so “forging” her own copy would not present any false information, it would accurately represent her status as a High School Graduate.

  10. So post the video of your nephew’s guitar solo already!

    1. Yeah, that sounds much more interesting than “girl told not do something, does it anyway, suffers consequences.”

  11. If you’re looking for oppressive school administraitors, look no further than this Florida story:

    “FL school district scans students’ eyes; parents outraged

    “Rob Davis, senior director of support services for Polk County Schools, says the district was going to try a pilot program that used iris scanners on 17 buses at three schools: Bethune Academy, Daniel Jenkins Academy, and the Davenport School of the Arts.

    “”It was for an extra-layer of safety for the students and the parents and guardians of students riding the bus,” Davis said.

    “The program would notify parents via text message or e-mail that their student made it to the destination….

    “The district was supposed to send out letters to parents informing them of the program and asking them if they wanted to opt out, but they went out late.

    “”It was an oversight. The letter was supposed to go out on a certain date. I assumed the letter had gone out and found out it had not gone out,” Davis said. “My deepest apologies. I have three daughters and I would have the same questions.””…..iris-scans

    1. Retinal scanners are cheap. Normalizing petty tyranny is priceless.

      1. I read that as rectal scanners.

    2. “I have three daughters and I would have the same questions.”

      Its pretty obvious that you didn’t have the same questions – then you might not have installed the scanners in the first place.

      What do these people think will happen that they need scanners? Some 30 year old child-nabber will jump on the bus and the driver won’t be able to do anything because the “computer *didn’t* say ‘no'”?

    3. Here’s the best layer of safety: don’t ride the bus. And stay away from their route.

  12. I went to a private middle school. Yeah, you were given demerits for untucked shirts and hats, but at least I learned stuff……which never happens at PUBLIK SCHROOLZ.

    She was told not to do something and did it anyway. Whats the story here? My Public School “administrators” and teachers made up shit as they went.

  13. Is she at least free to gambol over the plains?

    1. Also, I plan to report the fact that g*mbol is in the default Reasonable filter to Indian Country Today Media Network.

  14. I question whether that $1000 fine provision would enforceable even if she signed the contract. Courts generally won’t enforce straight up monetary penalties in contracts that are unrelated to a party’s actual damages from breach and this doesn’t sound like a situation where a liquidated damages clause would be appropriate.

  15. The real horror of Escambia Academy is the uniform:

    Khaki colored or navy shorts or uniform styled pants, white or maroon polo type knit shirt, white or
    black socks or tights. Predominantly black or white tennis/athletic shoe or black or brown leather shoe.

    So am I supposed to match black socks or white socks with my navy slacks and brown shoes? WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT NOISE? I mean if you’re going to spend years of your life dressing like that who cares about a fucking feather. And that’s not even getting into how shorts but not a skirt are acceptable for girls.

    1. I wear black crew socks and brown shoes with shorts all the time. It’s like a magic talisman that prevents “you’re gay, what do you think of this outfit?” conversations.

      1. But do you wear them with navy pants? Because if you really, really don’t want to have that conversation, ever again…

        1. I have some navy basketball shorts. I suppose I could wear those with brown loafers and black socks, but I’m working on a policy of deterrence, not a nuclear option.

        2. Imagine: Burgundy polo, navy shorts, black tights, white tennis shoes…..needs more eagle feather.

      2. I figured the top hat and monocle was sufficient to accomplish that.

    2. So am I supposed to match black socks or white socks with my navy slacks and brown shoes?


  16. So, judging by that photo, this actually happened in 1976?

    1. I got a Nikon camera. I love to take a photograph.

    2. Speaking of that, wasn’t “Indian Rights” a big 70’s thing?


      1. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in Alabama, being legally recognized as a member of an Indian tribe is a big thing and lots of people, especially graduating high schoolers, love to celebrate it.

        1. Yeah, you don’t see that much here in New England unless you’re running for Congress.

          1. Yeah, whatever happened to all those Indian tribes the Yankees discovered when they came to New England? They must have been so smothered by love and multiculturalism that they simply passed away painlessly, leaving only their place names behind.

      2. Free Leonard Peltier!

  17. If she’s going anywhere in life, the school will probably release the transcripts in due time if they want to receive the good publicity of her success in college and in a future career.

    Depending how long it takes them to finally release the transcripts, I would advise her to keep a mental note if the school comes asking for donations in the future.

  18. No one ever asks to see the diploma. The transcript, maybe.

    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.

    Always remember: forgiveness is easier to get than permission. And don’t use “me” as the subject of a sentence. You may be an Indian, but you’re not Tonto.

  19. These guys totally seem to know whats going on man. Wow.

  20. I just checked out the student handbook for the 2012-13 academic year.…..ndbook.pdf

    It declares, not once but twice, that administration approval is required for wearing “extraneous” material at graduation besides the cap and gown.

    There’s a provision for disciplining students guilty of insubordination toward school authorities.

    The only reference to fines I could locate had to do with behavior at sporting events. There’s also the question of liquidated damages as mentioned by another commenter.

    1. There was also provision for a grievance procedure which left the final decision to the Board of Directors of the school.

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