GLENDALE, Ariz. (KNXV/CNN) — One Arizona high school student is standing up for her Native American culture.
LaRissa Waln stood outside while the rest of her classmates received their diplomas. The ACLU interceded on her behalf but that was not enough. (Source: KNXV/CNN)
LaRissa Waln, a senior at Valley Vista High School, decorated her graduation cap with beads that are important to her heritage.
But her vice principal stopped her at the door and said she couldn't wear it inside the arena.
So instead, Waln stood outside. Her family was right 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 Bryan Waln 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,'" he said.
Waln and her father 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," said one of Waln's relatives. "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."
Inside, hundreds of her classmates did the one thing she couldn't — walk across the stage. But her family was not 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.
The ACLU said keeping Waln from walking would be "unlawful."
"If someone tells them no, they should fight for what's right," Waln said.
"Even though she's not going walk across the stage, she's going to take what she's learned over the last four years and she's already doing something really great with it," said a family member.
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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