HASTINGS — Hastings High School is facing a social media backlash after a senior was not allowed to wear a U.S. Army sash during her graduation ceremony.
A Facebook post about the incident, which has gone viral, criticizes the high school for not allowing graduating senior Megan Pohlmeier to wear the sash.
Pohlmeier said she received the sash, which is black and yellow with the U.S. Army logo, from her recruiter at the Grand Island office. She said she called the school to ask if she could wear it.
“It was something I worked really hard to earn. They told me ‘no’ and did not really give me a reason,” she said.
According to Pohlmeier, her father called high school Principal Thomas Szlanda to see if there was a way for her and the school to compromise. Although she had been told no by Szlanda, she said she planned to wear the sash before the ceremony, have pictures taken with it, tuck it under her gown during the ceremony, and wear it again afterwards.
While standing in line prior to the ceremony, Pohlmeier said the principal saw her wearing the U.S. Army sash.
“He pulled me out of line and said, ‘I talked to you and your father and you are not to be wearing that. If I see you wearing that again, you will not receive your diploma,’” she said.
Hastings Public Schools Superintendent Craig Kautz said he believes Pohlmeier was told she could not wear the U.S. Army sash during commencement exercises. However, Kautz believes the student would have been allowed to tuck her sash in her gown.
“But at the time, we were trying to get around 250 graduates lined up alphabetically and have the graduation start at exactly 2 p.m.,” Kautz said. “At a certain point, I think, in all of the discussion that occurred, the principal was just saying, ‘Get the sash off and get in the graduation line or don’t go through the graduation ceremony.’”
Kautz added that Pohlmeier could have appealed Szlanda’s decision to him and the Hastings Public Schools Board of Education, but chose not to.
Kautz said the high school could not have denied Pohlmeier her diploma, and did not attempt to.
“She earned her diploma, so we are not going to deny her that,” Kautz said. “The only thing we would deny her is the ability to go through the graduation ceremony. Our graduation ceremony, as it states in our (student) handbook, is voluntarily. It is not something that is mandated to get the diploma.”
Pohlmeier said all she wants is an apology. “It just should have been handled better.”
Hastings Public Schools officials said in a Facebook post that students aren’t allowed to wear any accessories on the outside of their graduation gowns with the exception of a handful of approved symbols that reflect achievements in school, typically for scholastic success.
“We are sorry (this) has generated the perception that we are not patriotic,” the district stated in the post. “This could not be further from the truth. Our mission, in part, is to develop responsible citizens. We can not think of a more responsible citizen than the ones who select to or are chosen to serve the United States of America.”