A California school district, threatened with a civil rights lawsuit, has agreed to drop its objection to a Native American student wearing an eagle feather at his high school graduation ceremony in the city of Clovis, officials said on Wednesday.
Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California on Monday filed a notice of intent to sue on an emergency basis to challenge the Clovis Unified School District’s refusal to allow the feather, the organization said.
Under a settlement, Clovis High School senior Christian Titman will be allowed to wear the feather in his hair and affix it to the tassel of his mortar board at various times during the Thursday ceremony in the city about 160 miles (257 km) southeast of San Francisco, school district spokeswoman Kelly Avants said.
The district had prohibited the feather under its “content neutral graduation standard” that bars students from adorning themselves with symbols or other items except for religious exceptions already granted during the school year for items such as a Sikh turban or Muslim head covering, Avants said.
Titman, a member of the Pit River Tribe, wanted to wear the feather because it was given to him by his father as a mark of his achievement, the ACLU said. Many Native Americans consider eagle feathers sacred.
Other Native American students in the United States over the years have sought to wear eagle feathers at graduations and sometimes school districts have objected, raising religious freedom questions.
In May, a federal judge ruled school officials in Oklahoma could bar a Native American student from wearing a feather at her graduation ceremony because their dress policy applied to all students equally.
The ACLU noted that California students have expansive free speech rights under the state’s education code.
“The implication that an eagle feather with religious significance is unacceptable or disruptive signals a deep disrespect from the district,” ACLU staff attorney Novella Coleman said this week.
The ACLU confirmed the settlement on Wednesday.
School officials say the restrictions for graduation are intended to preserve the solemnity of the occasion.
“It has been our goal from the beginning to find a mutually agreeable solution that honors and respects the culture of our Native American students while affirming our long-standing traditions and standards honoring every one of our graduating seniors,” Clovis Unified superintendent Janet Young said in a statement.