Chamberlain just can’t get its high school seniors out the door without making someone mad. Managing to avoid any blow-up this year over its resistance to respecting Lakota culture in its graduation ceremony, the Chamberlain school board this year decided to torque off a few dozen seniors by banning innocuous decorations from graduation caps.
As far as I can tell, the nearly 50 students who asked the school board for permission to decorate their hats weren’t looking to make any statements on race relations or social justice; they just wanted to add some spangles and cute messages. But the school board said no, because (a) policy says so, and (b) graduation is about on last hurrah for conformity:
“Graduation is the last time you will all be together and unified and you don’t want to take away from that,” said School Board Member Annette Priebe at the May 11 meeting [Hannah Baker, “District Will Tighten Grip on Attire After Students Decorate Caps,” Chamberlain Oacoma Sun, 2015.05.27, p. 1].
Some students found that argument uncompelling and gussied up their caps anyway. Chamberlain superintendent Debra Johnson is now withholding the transcripts of those cap-itally offending students until they come meet with her one on one.
Chamberlain says it has policy to back it up. Policy IKF/IKFA reads, “Students who are unable to meet the graduation requirements will not be permitted to participate in graduation exercises. All graduates are required to wear CHS approved caps and gowns at the graduation exercise/ceremony.”
Policy IKF/IKFA makes CHS approval of caps and gowns a graduation requirement. However, the punishment specified by the policy for failing to meet any graduation requirement is blocking the student’s participation in the graduation ceremony. Policy IKF/IKFA does not authorize the superintendent to withhold a student’s transcript. Spangle-topped students, if the administration failed to turn you away from the graduation ceremony itself, they gave up the only punishment their cited policy authorizes.
I must admit, I feel a little teapottishly tempestful here. I have marched in one graduation ceremony. I decorated my maroon cap with a big heart and the word “MOM”… which folks viewing from the stands thought read “WOW”. No one fussed, and life went on. But the Chamberlain school administration seems so determined to keep an iron grip on its graduation ceremony that it keeps making unnecessary trouble for itself.