Controversy over traditional kente graduation stoles at Clover Park High School

For Clover Park High School seniors Diane Veness and Shadae Ingram, graduation is only days away. But instead of a celebration, it’s become a point of contention between the high school and these soon-to-be graduates.

In years past, students all wore identical golden stoles over their graduation gowns, but this year the school allowed students to choose.

Leanna Albrect, the communication director for the Clover Park School District, explains, ‘We recognize the unique challenges our students face in earning a high school diploma, and we celebrate their important achievement. In designing this celebration, our focus is on wearing an item that represents a student’s culture or connection to school clubs that are tied to culture.’

Students were told they could wear a unique stole as long as it was approved before graduation.

Veness and Ingram were both given traditional kente stoles as graduation gifts. One says ‘Black Girl Magic’ while the other says ‘Black Grads Matter.’ Initially, both stoles were approved. The students were excited to wear them across the graduation stage.

“Maybe it’s just clothing to other people. But this is one way we can represent being African American being that strong woman,” says Veness.

But just a week before their graduation, both students were told that their stoles could no longer be worn to graduation. Ingram says the school’s principal called her dad to say her stole was too political.

“The principal of our school called him and said that our stoles were inappropriate,” says Ingram.

KIRO 7 asked the district about their decision.

In a statement, Albrect writes, “While we fully support the Black Girl Magic movement, its relevance and symbolism, for this year’s graduation ceremonies the focus was not to feature wording tied to a movement and instead focus on a student’s culture or connections to student clubs tied to culture.”

Veness and Ingram believe they’re being discriminated against. They say that this reaction from the school has tainted their final memories of Clover Park High School.

“For it to be just us because we’re the only ones who can’t wear it. That that should say something about the school,” says Veness.

Veness says the school has now informed them that if they try to wear their stoles to graduation, they will not be allowed to walk on stage to receive their degree.