Arizona teen risking high school graduation over cap controversy

High school students toss their mortar boards into air to celebrate their graduation.

Surprise (KNXV) — LaRissa Waln’s been waiting for the day she’d get to walk across the stage and receive her high school diploma, but she might not get the chance.

The 17-year-old attends Valley Vista High School and says she started decorating her cap for the ceremony more than a week ago, but just this week, school administrators said caps had to remain blank.

“If I do wear it, I won’t be able to walk,” said Waln.

Her cap though has a special meaning. Waln’s father helped create the design, a tribute to their Native American culture. The cap adorned with intricate beadwork that represents the Wahpeton Sioux tribe.

“It means everything to me, to be a part of it in any way possible,” she added. “We did pay for the cap and gown out of our own pockets, and we should have the right to decorate it.”

Administrators said it wasn’t a school policy though; it’s enforced district-wide.

Here’s Dysart Unified School District’s full statement:

“The Dysart Unified School District understands that graduation is an exciting time for students, and our goal is to ensure each student is appropriately recognized for successfully graduating high school. We respect the formality of our graduations and believe that decorated caps take away from the purpose of the ceremony, calling unnecessary attention to individual students. Only school-approved regalia, which is typically academic in nature, are allowed to adorn the gown. We appreciate the desire of students to honor cultural traditions, and there are many ways to do so beyond decorating a graduation cap.”

Waln says she and her father have tried meeting with administrators about the issue, even asking for a written copy of the policy, but say neither the school nor the district has provided one. She also found no policies on graduation caps in the school’s handbook.

“I worked four years for this,” Waln said. “I’ll always stick with my culture no matter what. If it means I can’t walk at graduation, then I guess I won’t walk. But I will be there.”

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