Warren resigns at EA; student fined for wearing feather

Published 7:25 pm Friday, May 31, 2013

A week after Escambia Academy’s 2013 graduation ceremony, a Creek Indian student has yet to receive her diploma and then-Headmaster Betty Warren has been replaced by an interim administrator.

Creek Indian student Chelsey Ramer says her diploma and transcripts are being withheld by the school until her family pays a $1,000 fine after she wore an eagle feather as part of her graduation attire.

Meanwhile, EA basketball coach David Walker has been named interim headmaster, although school board chairman Chris Kirk said the two circumstances were not related.

“She resigned affective the 28th,” Kirk said of Warren’s departure. “Coach Walker will be serving as interim headmaster going forward.”

While EA begins a search for its new administrator, Ramer said she and her family will pay the fine imposed by the school board, which several months ago denied her request to wear the eagle feather during graduation as a nod to her Native American heritage.

“It was worth every penny of the thousand dollars,” Ramer said. “This is what I’ve been waiting on, and I feel like I have a right to wear it.”

Ramer said she felt like she and three of her fellow Creek Indian students were being unfairly punished for something that was allowed in the past.

“My freshman year I went to graduation and students were wearing feathers and they didn’t get in any trouble,” she said. “I don’t think they asked permission. So we asked for permission about two or three months before graduation. (Warren) turned us down and said if we wore our feathers we would be pulled off the field.”

Ramer said several days before the ceremony, the students were presented with a piece of paper outlining acceptable graduation attire. She said she was told if she did not sign it, she would not be able to walk.

“I didn’t sign it,” Ramer said. “A few days later I did sign something, but it had nothing to do with graduation.”

Ramer said she did not make the decision to wear the feather during the ceremony until minutes before her name was called.

“None of my other friends were going to wear it,” she said. “Then I just thought, ‘This is what I’ve been waiting on; I feel like I have a right to wear it.’ I wore it on the field and I don’t think they even saw it until I got up to the stage to get my diploma.”

Ramer said Warren did not pull her from the field, but the next time Ramer went to Warren’s office it was empty.

“I went in to talk to her and noticed her office was cleared out,” she said. “I asked where she was and she said Mrs. Warren had been fired and Mr. Walker would be the new headmaster.”

Kirk said the EA board had nothing but fond feelings for Warren, who served as headmaster at the school for six years.

“We appreciate Betty’s service for the last six years,” he said. “It was one of those situations where it was amicable. Now, we’re just looking forward to the future and to new leadership.”

As for the fine against Ramer, family friend and former PCI teacher Alex Alvarez echoed the concerns he had voiced about the board’s denial weeks before the graduation.

“It’s a borderline injustice,” Alvarez said. “If any student, Native American, Jewish, Muslim or otherwise should be able to express that spirituality and feel comfortable with it at any point, but especially at something as important as a graduation.”

In relation to the fine, Kirk said the EA board will meet Monday night and would not care to issue a statement until further discussion concerning the matter could take place.