Saugus principal tries to deflect responsibility for decision to allow uniform at graduation.
The class of 2009 at Saugus High School may or may not have more spit and polish than usual, depending on district action that could have been avoided three months ago.
Senior Nicholas Laccabue, 17, finished the coursework credits required for graduation and took early graduation on Dec. 12, according to his mother, Shari. Three days later, Nicholas shipped out to boot camp for the U.S. Marines. He has arranged to be home on June 3, when the rest of his graduating class will walk the long path down the football field at COC to get his diploma.
Since he will officially be a Marine on that date, he asked Saugus Principal Bill Bolde if he could walk in his dress blue Marine uniform, a request that was immediately denied.
Nicholas' mother, Shari Laccabue, said she was told Bolde's reasoning was to avoid setting a precedent that would allow anyone wishing to wear religious or alternative clothing instead of the traditional cap and gown.
She didn’t settle for the explanation, thinking there was a big difference between someone in service to their country and someone making a religious or lifestyle statement. She called Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office and the office of Congressman Buck McKeon.
On Wednesday morning, she told KHTS that Bolde had called her and said Nicholas would be allowed to walk in his uniform.
But now Bolde is denying that statement.
“I won’t say that just yet because that’s making the assumption that our governing board is going to pass what’s coming forward,” he said. “That is certainly the intent of our desires, but I will fall short of saying that 100 percent at this point, because I didn’t tell her that.”
“It’s never been a practice of the school district because it’s never come up before,” Bolde said. “We’ve never walked down this road before so we’re trying to determine how you walk this road well.”
Shari said her son has wanted to be a Marine since he was 2 years old.
"He always played with G.I. Joe and wanted to be a Navy Seal until he realized there were sharks in the water," she said. "He read all the Marine books and watched all the movies. It's been a life dream for him."
Bolde said that administrators always make it a point to recognize student achievement off-campus at graduation, but that his hands were tied by a district policy requiring graduates to wear cap and gown at the ceremonies – with no exceptions.
The truth, according to Hart School Board Member Paul Strickland, is that there is no such policy, something he verified with Superintendent Jaime Castellanos. What students wear to graduation is a site-by-site decision, left squarely to the principal of each school.
Bolde has written a resolution that he says will be presented to a group of principals and administrators which precedes agendizing the item for the Governing Board. His intent is to take the decision away from the sites and make it a district policy.
A copy of the resolution was obtained by KHTS, with Bolde’s proposed wording:
“When in the event there is a student in the Hart District who successfully completes the prescribed state wide curriculum and all requirements for graduation as mandated by the Hart governing board in a time frame earlier than the normal four year period (early grad) AND that student chooses to enlist in a branch of the United States Military AND that student enters into and successfully completes a prescribed “basic training” or “boot camp” which leads to his or her privilege to wear the official uniform of that branch of the United States Armed Services prior to his or her graduation ceremony AND that student secures the approval from the commanding officer… that student shall be given the option to wear the official uniform of the United States Military Branch during the graduation commencement ceremony."
“Just like I told the mom, I am very confident we’re working in a positive direction on a resolution that we call all work with the schools in the Hart district,” Bolde said.
Asked why he didn’t allow the young man to plan on wearing his uniform when he was asked in December, Bolde admitted that he made a decision then but the attention from various government officials has brought it back to the table.
“Just to say yes or no, you can walk or don’t walk, I made my decision last December,” he said. “Now I have a little more information and I’m trying to be very proactive and work with this family and provide them with what they would like.”
Bob Haueter, Deputy Chief of Staff for Congressman Buck McKeon, said that they were investigating the situation after receiving a call from Mrs. Laccabue.
“We got a call from the mother of the young man and she asked if the Congressman’s office would assist her,” he said. “I called Principal Bolde and asked if what the mother was saying was correct and he said there was a district policy that prohibited the young man from wearing anything other than the cap and gown.
“He said his hands were tied and there was nothing he could do about it,” Haueter continued. “I called a member of the (school) board who had worked on the policies and he was sure it was not district policy. I then talked with the Superintendent and he said it was at the discretion of each principal.”
Haueter said that when he called the principal back, Bolde told him that there had been a conference call with all principals and the Superintendent which resulted in an agreement that there should be no exceptions to the attire at graduation.
He also said that Bolde gave him examples of other schools having problems with alternative dress at graduation, such as cross-dressers or those wishing to wear religious garb, which Haueter felt had little in common with the current situation.
“You cannot equate a young man who has not only graduated early from high school but has gone on to volunteer to serve his country and earned the right to wear the uniform of his country and in fact is a soldier in uniform who could be heading for Afghanistan with a cross dresser.
“They didn’t want to set a dangerous precedent,” Haueter said, adding that he found it hard to believe. “Any boy or girl who is able to graduate early and earn the right to wear the uniform of his country by getting through all the military training, we don’t want to set a dangerous precedent that an individual who aspired to those high goals could actually graduate with his class in his uniform?”
He said that a compromise was offered to Laccabue to lead the graduation procession, lead the pledge of allegiance and be recognized while wearing his uniform, then join his classmates, put on cap and gown over the uniform to walk up and get his diploma.
Haueter told Bolde that the Congressman’s intention was to satisfy the needs of the mother, but he quickly received a call from Shari Laccabue informing him that her son could be court-martialed if he covered his uniform with anything that wasn’t approved by the military.
“It’s a violation of the Military Uniform Code, “ he explained. “She said he would be happy to carry the gown over his arm but more importantly, he wasn’t doing this for attention. He didn’t want to lead the pledge or be recognized, he just wants to wear his uniform.”
Haueter added that McKeon found it hard to believe that this was going on in Santa Clarita.