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Flathead High School issues apology to graduate

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KALISPELL, Mont. - Flathead High School issued an apology to the Zephrey Holloway and his family after administrators asked Holloway to remove his graduation cap decorated with Native American regalia.

Holloway said he could barely contain his excitement when his grandmother showed him what she did to his graduation cap. He told NBC Montana, "It meant the world. It was awesome. It was beautiful."

She spent 12 hours the night before hand painting the mortarboard in Native American regalia.

Add to that with a Korean War feather passed down from his great grandfather, and Holloway couldn't wait to walk across the stage to accept his diploma.

However, once Holloway arrived at the school, administrators took exception to the decorations. They asked Holloway to remove it.

"It just kind of sucked," Holloway said. "It kind of hurt my pride a little bit, and I just kind of backed down. I didn't want confrontation between either the principals or the school district."

The school has a policy that states, "No tape, glitter, leis, bouquets, or any other adornments are allowed on the caps or gowns."

But there's a problem with the policy. Just two months ago, Montana's legislature passed Senate Bill 319. The new law gave Holloway good reason to challenge the school policy.

The bill overrules any government agency from prohibiting the wearing of traditional tribal regalia and even makes a specific mention of graduation ceremonies.

You can read the full-text of the bill here.

Holloway said he brought a copy of the bill with him.

"At first I did show them the bill and clearly stated and read it out to them," said Holloway. "They still said no."

Flathead Principal Peter Fusaro issued a statement to the media:

"Flathead High School has allowed students to wear tribal regalia and objects of cultural significance to express their indigenous heritage during commencement exercises. As part of our 2017 graduation ceremony, a student was allowed to display an eagle feather as part of his graduation attire. The same student was not permitted to wear a cap that included culturally significant artwork expressing their indigenous heritage. This decision was based on a graduation provision that does not permit students to use "tape, glitter, leis, bouquets, or any other adornments" on their caps and gowns. The application of this provision in this situation was in error. The School District and administration of Flathead High School regret the misapplication of this policy and has extended apologies to the student, their family, and their grandmother, who painted the cap. Although school administrators were generally aware of SB 319 prior to commencement exercises, the School District has taken steps to ensure that Montana law authorizing expressions of indigenous heritage is honored fully in the future."

Holloway said Fusaro called him to apologize.

And while Holloway says he appreciates the school's apology, it can't replace the moment.

"I think more than it hurt me; it hurt my mom and my grandmother because of all that work that they put in," said Holloway.

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