May 16

State Superintendent Stanford Taylor asks districts to review graduation policies as they relate to American Indian traditions

As the school year winds down and graduation ceremonies take place, State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor has sent a reminder to Wisconsin school superintendents to review their policies regarding American Indian ceremonial traditions.

“Throughout Wisconsin, many school districts already recognize the importance of American Indian students wearing eagle feathers, traditional regalia, and other items,” Stanford Taylor wrote, noting that many school districts addressed their policies in 2017 after the Department of Public Instruction asked them to connect with sovereign tribal nations and discuss with tribal leaders ways to recognize and honor tribal traditions and practices. In the past, some school districts have prohibited students from wearing items of religious and cultural significance at graduation ceremonies and school-sponsored events.

“I hope you will take this opportunity to deepen the relationship with the tribal nations and recognize the cultural and religious significance these specific items have to the sovereign tribal nations and their members,” she wrote.

Stanford Taylor asked school districts specifically to look at their policies, consider the religious aspects of eagle feathers and other items for American Indian students and the legal protections given for religious practices. For instance:

  • Wisconsin Statutes s. 115.28(31) requires rules to provide for the reasonable accommodation of a pupil’s sincerely held religious beliefs with regard to all examinations and other academic requirements. Further, the related administrative rule, Wis. Admin. Code. Chapter PI 41, requires all school boards to develop policies providing for such accommodations.
  • Wisconsin Statutes s. 118.13 provides that no person may be denied participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be discriminated against in any curricular, extracurricular, pupil services, recreational or other program or activity because of the sex, race, religion, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, marital or parental status, sexual orientation or physical, mental emotional or learning disability. Under the related administrative rule, Wis. Admin. Code Chapter PI 9, school boards are required to develop policies prohibiting discrimination against pupils.

“Thank you for your continued efforts to make school a welcoming, safe and engaging place for all our students each and every day,” she wrote.