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Anchorage School District provides updated guidance for cultural regalia at graduation ceremonies

An updated regulation from the Anchorage School District will more broadly allow students to wear cultural and traditional regalia during graduation.
Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 9:29 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - An updated administrative regulation from the Anchorage School District will more broadly allow students to wear cultural and traditional regalia during graduation.

This new guidance from the district comes after some students were blocked from wearing cultural regalia last year for graduation at West Anchorage High School. The school principal and later the district said this was an error.

The district has allowed tribal and cultural regalia to be worn at its graduation ceremonies since an initial regulation was passed in 2019, but Superintendent Deena Bishop announced the district would be taking another look at the policy following the incident last year.

“A student may adorn the cap, gown, or stole customarily worn at their school with traditional objects of tribal regalia or recognized objects of cultural significance,” a press release from the district this week said. “Furthermore, a student may choose to replace the graduation cap with cultural headwear.”

School district leadership said they met and spoke with many groups before crafting the new regulation, including the Native Advisory Committee, Native leadership clubs, the Multicultural Education Concerns Advisory Committee, and Alaska Native cultural experts.

“When we approached the early, early phases of developing this year’s new administrative regulation, the first thing we put on the table is making sure the trust is back into the situation,” said Paul McDonogh, supervisor of Indigenous Programs at the district. “We’re bringing district staff from an authority standpoint to come and observe and trust the families.”

The work by the district had many contributors, and McDonogh said 2021 Service High School graduate Nyché Andrew played a big role in making sure the guidelines fit.

“Wearing my Yup’ik headdress was really important for me because to me, my headdress represents strength,” Andrew said in a video posted by the district.

Andrew is Yup’ik and Inupiaq and currently attends Yale University. McDonogh said she started the first board resolution, three years ago, and that carried into the first regulation.

“The voice really kind of carried from Nyché,” McDonogh said.

In other states with large Indigenous communities, these policies are typically written at the state level, according to ASD’s secondary education senior director Dr. Kersten Johnson-Strumpler.

For further information about cultural regalia and the 2022 ASD graduation ceremony schedule visit the district’s graduation page.

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