Recently I have read that Warren County Schools decided to not allow the Native American students in the community to adorn their graduation apparel with symbolic items of honor and historical and cultural significance. I believe that this is a fundamental mistake by school leadership.
This county has history. It comes from God. A natural instinct for some folks is to fear something that is not like us. It is totally un-American. We are talking about the history and the culture of our country, a nation built from the cultures of others. The Native American peoples were here from the beginning. Long before you or me. That cannot be taken away. We all came from someplace else, except the Native Americans. Every one of us immigrated to America. You and I. A denial of the foregoing is neither necessary nor honest.
I am concerned because Warren County Schools’ administration is being exclusive instead of inclusive. The ridiculous proposition put forward that if we allow the Native Americans to do it, then everyone and anyone will utilize the First Amendment to “make our job harder,” is a false narrative. These peoples’ adornments are honorable in significance. These are not gang-related Bloods and Crips.
The argument that other groups will utilize the First Amendment to bring unique clothing attire to the graduation is false. These are not mere decorations; rather, they are symbols of achievement and honor not particularly bestowed by the county school system. What true harm could they cause?
When I graduated law school at Villanova University in 1987, I remember that, like countless other college graduates, we wrote on our graduation caps statements of protest and individuality. No one complained or sought to suppress our heritage. In fact, they welcomed our individuality and free thought. That’s what an honest education is all about. These children are happy to express themselves, and that is what we are supposed to teach them. This particular application of rigid rules is counter-productive to growth and self-development.
This high school graduation class should be highly honorable to the Native American community and all other students as well. They have the highest graduation levels in their history. These kids have earned it. Why deprive these students of their honor and respect? And let’s get it right, in the minds of the native peoples it is disrespectful to deny them their moment of self-expression. It is a small request that can easily be accommodated by the board. Any decision otherwise is divisive, bigoted and short-sighted. Put truth before politics.
Dr. Spain’s assessment that “no other option” is available is likewise untrue. They are only recommendations. He can make a final decision. But he chooses not to do that. Dr. Spain, I know you. Upon your departure, leave a legacy of inclusion, not divisiveness. Ride into the sunset with the children’s spirit, not the adults’ politics. Please do not turn your back on the county’s history. This issue should be a no-brainer. You, of all people, should show these children that there is always an amicable solution to a perceived problem. The voices of our children cannot be stifled and will always be heard. Surely you can accommodate this small request.
I sincerely pray that you would have the will and strength to change your mind and show our children how one person can make a difference in their lives.
LUKE LUCAS, Esquire
Mr. Lucas is a former vice chairman of the Warren County Board of Commissioners and has been practicing law for 30 years. His wife, Rhonda, taught in the Warren County school system for several years. His two sons both attended schools in the Warren County Schools district.