Winnfield Senior High School military recruits denied chance to wear graduation stole

The stoles are camouflage and that’s not allowed.
Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 6:29 PM CDT
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - Mikerra Evans and four other students are celebrating a hard-earned goal: graduation and enlisting into the Louisiana National Guard.

Evans earned honors and is proud to be one of Winnfield Senior High’s salutatorians. Her post-graduation plans include becoming a military police officer.

A dream since junior year.

“I was so happy to have my stole. I was supposed to graduate with my stole. I was excited,” Evans said.

That excitement turned to shock.

“We were told that we couldn’t graduate in our stoles, and it left a lot of us disappointed.”

Shortly before walking across the stage, The four Army National Guard recruits learned Winnfield Senior High School’s principal Dr. Jane (Karen) Griffin wouldn’t allow them to wear their military stoles.

“It left a lot of dispute and a lot of tension in the air,” Evans explained.

Maj. John Carmouché Jr., Louisiana National Guard Company Commander said, “the stoles signify their commitment to the National Guard after they’ve raised their right hand so that others in the community can see that and share in their achievement.”

In a statement to KNOE, the principal said she “made a rapid decision” not to allow it just moments prior to graduation on May 21st. Griffin said the decision is “in no way indicative of a lack of respect” for the students’ future military service.

The statement goes on to say it does not reflect the value and respect the school system has for the nation’s military and the commitment of its service members.

Winn Parish school board member Leah Clingan told the school system’s superintendent and fellow school board members she’s upset with what went down.

“These kids are going to fight for us, and that, to me, was the wrong decision to be made,” Clingan said in the May 24th board meeting.

Another board member said he is “very apologetic” that it happened.

In that meeting, Winn Parish School Superintendent Steve Barlett said the current dress code doesn’t cover events like this.

“So the board will know, Winn Parish School System does not have a detailed policy that says seniors graduating can wear this, that or the other. Matter fact, wearing anything is a tradition,” Bartlett explained.

A tradition that former WSH graduate Savannah Green said she didn’t get to honor in 2018.

“4H, I was extremely passionate about 4H. When I was 15, I was diagnosed with cancer, and 4H focused a lot on service learning. And the year that I graduated, actually, the service-learning project was to raise cancer awareness, and the fact that I wasn’t allowed to represent that at graduation was very upsetting,” Green explained.

She said Dr. Griffin has historically denied students’ requests to display their achievements and recalls the outrage it sparked years ago.

“I’m just glad they brought all this attention to it because it’s about time for change.”

Change. A sentiment many people in the community are calling for.

There are some challenges. School board members hope to discuss changing the policy regarding graduation at the next board meeting. Maj. Carmouché said moving forward his team will work closely with school officials to understand dress code policies thoroughly.

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