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Native American student decorates cap with beads, not allowed to walk at graduation

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PHOENIX, Ariz. (WFLA/KNXV) – One Arizona high school student is standing up for her Native American heritage.

She decorated her graduation cap with beads that are important to her heritage.

However, her vice principal stopped her at the door and said she couldn’t wear it inside.

So instead, Larissa Waln stood outside, her family by her side.

“I did have a little hope that they would change their minds and let me walk with my class,” Waln said.
It was a tough moment for her father to watch.

“Seeing the tears in her eyes, and she’s like, ‘they said no,’ and I just gave her a big hug immediately and said, ‘alright it’s time to fight now,’” Bryan Waln said.

She and her dad spent more than a week threading every single bead onto the edge of her cap by hand.

“Our regalia, our star quilts, things that we do. It’s for us to celebrate our children when they accomplish things. That’s what this is, it’s not just because she wanted to decorate her cap and gown, that’s not what it was about, it was about celebrating her life,” another family member said.

Inside, hundreds of her classmates did the one thing she couldn’t.

Her family isn’t alone in questioning the district’s policy.

After weeks of fighting, the ACLU got involved, sending Dysart Unified Schools a four-page letter citing Arizona’s religious freedom laws and saying keeping Waln from walking would be “unlawful.”

“If someone tells them no, they should fight for what’s right,” Waln said.

The school district responded to the ACLU’s letter and called the policy a reasonable restriction.

Officials said Waln could wear an eagle feather in her hair or underneath her gown instead. 

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