Clovis Unified reaches agreement on eagle feather with Native American student

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Clovis Unified has reached an agreement with a Native American student who wants to wear a feather to his graduation.

Christian Titman and his family say the feather has cultural and religious significance. But the district refused to allow the feather, saying it was a dress code violation and possible distraction at this week's ceremony.

In response, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the district. But Tuesday night, the district announced it had reached an agreement in the case.

Details of the agreement have not been released, but Clovis Unified officials say it is largely consistent with offers previously made by the district to accommodate student requests. The agreement means the two parties will no longer be headed to a scheduled court hearing on Wednesday.

PRESS RELEASE: ACLU Statement on Settlement on Behalf of Native American Student in Clovis

Last night we reached a settlement agreement with the Clovis Unified School District on behalf of Christian Titman, a graduating senior who is Native American who will now be able to wear an eagle feather during the graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 4. He will be allowed to wear the eagle feather in his hair during the entire ceremony and attach the feather on his cap for the traditional tassel turn.
"Christian and his family are thrilled that he will be able to wear an eagle feather during graduation tomorrow," said Novella Coleman, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. "The eagle feather represents Christian's academic achievement and has important cultural and religious significance. It's deeply meaningful that he will be able to wear an eagle feather presented to him by his father during the graduation ceremony."

Christian's family made repeated requests to the district officials over several weeks, asking that that the district allow Christian to wear the eagle feather on his cap during graduation. The district denied each of those requests, and told the family that they would only accommodate the request if they were legally required to do so.

The family then sought the help of California Indian Legal Services (CILS), the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the ACLU. We sent a formal letter to the district on May 19. The district again refused to accommodate the request. The ACLU, CILS, and NARF filed an emergency lawsuit on Monday, June 1 to compel the district to allow Christian to wear the eagle feather during graduation.

"Schools should respect the requests of Native American students who want to wear an eagle feather during graduation," said Coleman. "We're pleased that the district was willing to come to a resolution, although it's unfortunate that previous requests from the family and the ACLU were denied."

As part of the settlement agreement, the district will work with Christian Titman and his family to discuss ways to better respond in the future to requests from students for religious expression during graduation.

State and federal law protect freedom of expression and recognize the religious significance of eagle feathers for Native Americans. California students also have broad free speech rights under the Education Code, and the California Constitution has stronger protections for free speech than the U.S. Constitution.

The Clovis Unified School District released the following statement to Action News:

Clovis Unified officials announced tonight that an agreement has been reached with Native American student Christian Titman regarding his request to wear an eagle feather during graduation. "It has been our goal from the beginning to find a mutually agreeable solution that honors and respects the culture of our Native American students while affirming our long-standing traditions and standards honoring every one of our graduating seniors," said Superintendent Janet Young. "We look forward to doing both at Thursday's graduation ceremony."

The agreement, reached after Superior Court Judge Black had continued today's hearing to occur Wednesday, June 3, is largely consistent with offers previously made by the District to accommodate Christian's request. The agreement paves the way for the cancellation of Wednesday's hearing. The Clovis Unified School District remains committed to its long tradition of decorum at its graduation ceremony, including its dress code and its intended reflection of unity of the graduating class. At the same time, the District also continues to remain committed to its practice of working with students and their families when requests for accommodations or exemptions from the graduation ceremony dress code for sincerely held religious beliefs.

We'll have more information when it becomes available.
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