State Ethnic Office Protests Ban on Leis at Commencement

State Ethnic Office Protests Ban on Leis at Commencement

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Directors of the state ethnic offices have protested a Woods Cross High School policy banning graduating students from wearing leis during commencement ceremonies.

Rick Call, principal at Woods Cross High for five years, said at the time that graduation adornment "was just getting out of control. This year the decision was made that we would do everything we could to help our ceremony be more dignified and formal."

Bill Afeaki, director of the state Office of Pacific Islander Affairs, protested the decision and Hispanic Affairs director Tony Yapias, Black Affairs chief Bonnie Dew and Asian Affairs director Edith Mitko have rallied around him.

The four directors sent Davis School District Superintendent Bryan Bowles a letter of protest.

"Terming leis 'other paraphernalia' definitely shows gross insensitivity to a cultural phenomenon that is important to Polynesians," they wrote.

Since Call is leaving his Woods Cross post to become district curriculum director, "We are very concerned that he will be influencing materials that will be offered in all classrooms ... It is unacceptable to have the cultural insensitivity and bias that was demonstrated over the leis," the ethnic directors said.

Bowles, former vice president of the Polynesian Cultural Center associated with the Mormon church's BYU-Hawaii, supported the principal and also disputed that wearing leis was a cultural observance.

"At BYU-Hawaii, where I have been to several graduations, they did not have them wear leis. And Bill Afeaki knows that. He should know that," Bowles said.

He said graduates and their families "should respect the culture of the school," not express their own ethnic culture.

"This was not a luau. It was a school ceremony -- not a Polynesian ceremony," Bowles said.

It's not as though leis get in the way or taint the dignity of a graduation ceremony, Yapias countered. Schools such as the University of Utah, Horizonte and Highland High permit the wearing of leis and other cultural garments at graduation.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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