Student says high school banned her from wearing U.S. Army sash during graduation ceremony

A recent high school graduate claims that her principal threatened to withhold her diploma if she didn’t remove the U.S. Army sash she had draped over her graduation gown.

(Photo: Courtesy of Megan Pohlmeier)

As the Omaha World-Herald newspaper reports, Hastings High School in Hastings, Neb., is facing backlash after a Facebook post called the sash ban “unacceptable.” The post suggested that the school’s actions showed a lack of support for the military.

But a follow-up post from Hastings Public Schools denies the claim that graduating senior Megan Pohlmeier was singled out during the ceremony, noting that the only outer accessories — such as medals, hoods, and cords — students were allowed to wear were those signifying academic achievement at the school. Sashes representing future colleges were not allowed.

Pohlmeier told the World-Herald that her father sought permission allowing her to wear the sash, which she was given by a U.S. Army recruiter upon her enlistment. Principal Thomas Szlanda declined the request, but Pohlmeier decided to wear it for photos anyway, planning to tuck it underneath her graduation gown for the actual ceremony. 

“It was something I worked really hard to earn,” she told the paper. “They told me no and did not really give me a reason.”

But her plan backfired when Szlanda spied the sash during the ceremony and reportedly threatened reprecussions.

“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,’” Pohlmeier says.

(Photo: Courtesy of Megan Pohlmeier)

Hastings Public Schools Superintendent Craig Kautz issued a statement suggesting a misunderstanding. He noted that Pohlmeier could not have had her diploma withheld, though it’s possible that she could have been denied the chance to participate in the graduation ceremony.

“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.’”

He added that Pohlmeier and her father didn’t appeal the principal’s sash ban with him but acknowledged that she should have been able to wear it so long as it was tucked in.

Pohlmeier, who thinks that the situation “could have been handled better,” is seeking an apology. Hastings school officials, meanwhile, wrote that they were “sorry” if people were “offended” by their refusal to let graduates wear non-school-issued accessories, but denied any unpatriotic intentions.

“We are sorry that the misrepresentation of our graduation has generated the perception that we are not patriotic,” the school’s Facebook post reads. “This could not be further from the truth. Our mission, in part, is to develop responsible citizens. We cannot think of a more responsible citizen than the ones who select to or are chosen to serve the United States of America.”

The school’s post has received comments arguing that the rule should be overturned, though some military vetetans voiced support for the school.

“As a military family, I agree with the high school,” read one comment. “This time is about high school, not future endeavors. The celebration should start and stop with that period of time.

“There is plenty of time to celebrate college, trade school, and military endeavors as a private family or at those respective graduations. Not all kids have their next steps figured out or have the financial means or support to follow their career dream. A high school diploma is a huge achievement. Honoring it, and it alone, should be enough for one day.”

“As a veteran, I support the school’s decision,” added another commenter. “Is her mom going to complain the minute her daughter gets in trouble for breaking AR 670-1 [an Army uniform regulation]? The military is built on uniformity and regulations.”

It’s not the first time military sashes have caused a graduation controversy. In 2016 a Maine student named Greg Woodworth opted to skip his school’s graduation ceremony in protest over its refusal to let him wear his U.S. Army sash, the Portland Press Herald reported.

A Maine graduating senior, Greg Woodworth, reportedly skipped his high school’s 2016 graduation ceremony in protest. (Photo: Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)

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