A Sapulpa Oklahoma High School that initially refused to allow Native American graduating senior Liseanne Yazzie to wear traditional moccasins to her graduation ceremony has changed its stance and will allow traditional dress.
Yazzie and her mother Michelle Bear Robe met with Sapulpa Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Burr and Sapulpa High School Principal Johnny Bilby Wednesday morning and after a few hours, school officials sent an email to ICTMN stating the decision had been made to allow for traditional clothing for Native students at graduation.
Yazzie says she was nervous about meeting with the Superintendent and her principal, but says it went well.
Liseanne Yazzie and her mother Michelle Bear Robe are relieved that Sapulpa High will now allow traditional moccasins.
“I am so relieved and so glad they are going to let me wear my moccasins. I really can’t explain what it means for me and my family.”
Bear Robe says she was also excited and relieved, especially since she wasn’t certain what to expect that morning when meeting with school officials. “At first I thought all of this was treated with a bit of being dismissive, but after I spoke up and made them aware they made a mistake, they started to listen.”
“During the meeting they asked sincere questions and it felt respectful, like they wanted to understand.”
A few hours after meeting with Bear Robe and her daughter, Burr released the following statement in an email to ICTMN:
Sapulpa Public Schools takes pride in its everyday existence to remain inclusive of all students and respectful of individual beliefs and the customs that come along with a wide variety of cultures which converge in our school buildings each year. Today, Jana Roth (Sapulpa Coordinator for Indian Education), Johnny Bilby (Sapulpa High School Principal) and I were able (for the first time) to meet with Liseanne Yazzie and hear her concerns first hand regarding the decision to not allow her to wear ceremonial moccasins to our school's graduation. While the courts have consistently held that school districts can legitimately set limits for students within our school settings, it does not appear that such a limit should include this Native American student's traditional footwear at our high school's graduation commencement.
After careful consideration and reflection Sapulpa Public Schools has decided to make an exception to previous restrictions regarding footwear. Native American clothing, especially ceremonial attire (as in this case), can and should be considered appropriate for inclusion in our graduation exercises.
Regrettably, this issue has become something far more than one individual's desire to display her heritage for others to witness. Liseanne's case has been championed by several individuals from across the United States and has been the subject of much debate. While we appreciate the input we have received as a result - this case has been always about an individual student and what this means to her...and not a movement or cause.
We have all learned a great deal from this experience. As we move forward and look ahead to future experiences, we will be establishing a procedural pathway for individual students to explain any rationale they may have for similar exceptions to be made.
We look forward to seeing Liseanne on Friday along with her fellow graduating classmates at a ceremony celebrating them and their hard work.
Kevin Burr, Superintendent Sapulpa Public Schools
Both Bear Robe and her daughter say a huge factor in the decision was the outpouring of support from Indian Country and the many people who contacted the school on Yazzie’s behalf.
“One person from the school had asked me how things got so big. The school received hundreds of emails and I was told the phone would not stop ringing,” said Bear Robe.
Yazzie says she feels gratitude. “I am just so grateful for all the positive support from everyone who helped to change the minds of my school.”
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