Keene High School students will be allowed to wear military sashes at graduation next week after the superintendent gave his go-ahead Friday.
Over the past several days, thousands of people signed an online petition asking the school to let students wear the sashes, which represent the military branch they plan to serve, with their caps and gowns.
Clarice Davis, 17, of Lempster, who is joining the Air Force and is slated to head to boot camp this month, said school administration told students that enlisting is not a school-affiliated activity.
Keene High Principal James F. Logan did not return a phone call or email from The Sentinel this week seeking comment on the matter.
Davis said she is one of 11 soon-to-be Keene High alumni joining the armed forces.
N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 Superintendent Robert H. Malay told The Sentinel Friday that he had “resolved the issue” with a student, having delivered the news that graduating seniors will be allowed to wear the sashes after a longer meeting Thursday about the concerns.
Davis said Malay had explained to her that she and other students who have committed to the armed forces can wear the sashes because there is no policy on the books explicitly prohibiting them.
“I was pretty happy when he told me,” Davis said. “I caught a little bit of a happy cry.”
At an upcoming school board meeting, Davis said, Malay indicated that members will be encouraged to begin drafting such a policy.
In the meantime, the students have received an outpouring of support on social media.
Many community members who commented on a previous article on this issue posted to The Sentinel’s Facebook page thanked the students for their upcoming service.
“Why shouldn’t they allow it?” wrote one person. “It literally isn’t affecting anyone. Just let them be proud.”
But though responses have overwhelmingly sided with the students, one commenter, who identified herself as a veteran, argued that they should hold off on wearing sashes because they have not completed their military training yet.
Another, also noting that he’s a veteran, wrote: “What is getting me is the MILITARY oriented students were told no, and some are petitioning it. If they do make it to the military and their command says NO will they be able to petition that?”
This latest local controversy over military dress at commencement comes six years after a dispute at ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough made national headlines.
In 2016, then-Gov. Maggie Hassan signed Brandon’s Law, legislation named for U.S. Marine Cpl. Brandon J. Garabrant of Greenfield that allows graduates who have completed boot camp to wear a military dress uniform for their high school commencement ceremony.
In 2013, ConVal required that Garabrant wear a cap and gown at commencement, instead of his Marine dress uniform. The student council and graduation committee — both of which turned down Garabrant’s request — cited conformity, saying the celebration was about graduating from high school, not the Marines, then-principal Brian S. Pickering said at the time.
Garabrant was killed in June 2014 while serving in Afghanistan. He was 19.