American Indian students in North Carolina public schools could wear items like feathers and plumes to their graduation ceremonies to signify their cultural heritage in legislation given final General Assembly approval Thursday.

The House bill, which after clearing the state Senate unanimously now heads to Gov. Roy Cooper's desk for his expected signature, responds to what supporters call inconsistent decisions by schools determining whether such items related to Native Americans violate dress codes.

An appeals court ruling more than 40 years ago declared schools may deny student participation in graduation ceremonies if the student does not comply with a dress code, according to a bill explanation from General Assembly staff.

The measure, already approved by the House in March, received the final OK as high schools across the state wrap up commencement ceremonies for the school year. The bill would take effect as soon as Cooper signs it.

The bill, whose sponsors include Lumbee tribe member Rep. Jarrod Lowery of Robeson County, says any student who is a member of a state or federally recognized Indian tribe or eligible to be a member can wear "objects of cultural significance" as part of their graduation regalia. Plumes and feathers, which are considered sacred by many tribal members, would fit that definition, the legislation says.

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