JACKSON, Mo. (AP) — Nathan Warmack wanted to honor his heritage by wearing a Scottish kilt to his high school dance. Then a principal told him to change into a pair of pants.
What began with a few yards of tartan has sparked an international debate about freedom, symbols and cultural dress. More than 1,600 people have signed an Internet petition seeking an apology for the high school senior.
“It’s a kilt. It’s going to turn heads, but I never believed it would have become what it is,” Mr. Warmack said.
Other schools across the country also have wrestled with the issue. A principal in Victoria, Texas, ordered two boys into “more appropriate” attire when they wore kilts to school in 1992, saying: “I know kilts. Those weren’t kilts, and the boys aren’t Scots.”
Mr. Warmack, a defensive lineman on the football team, became interested in his family’s Scottish ties after seeing Mel Gibson’s 1995 movie “Braveheart,” about William Wallace’s battle to overthrow English rule in 13th-century Scotland. Mr. Warmack reads books about Scotland and visits Web sites to learn more about his family’s genealogy.
He bought a kilt on the Internet to wear to his school’s formal “Silver Arrow” dance last month. Mr. Warmack said he showed it to a vice principal before the dance, who joked that he had better wear something underneath it, and Mr. Warmack assured him he would.
Mr. Warmack’s parents helped him piece together the rest of his outfit: a white shirt and black tie with white socks and black boots.
“We knew it wasn’t the formal regalia,” his father said. “We wanted it to be acceptable for the occasion.”
After Mr. Warmack and his date posed for pictures, Principal Rick McClard, who had not previously seen the kilt, told Mr. Warmack that he had to go change. Mr. Warmack refused a few times and said the outfit was recognizing his heritage.
Mr. Warmack says Mr. McClard told him: “Well, this is my dance, and I’m not going to have students coming into it looking like clowns.”
Mr. McClard later said he had no recollection of saying that. The principal did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The school district’s superintendent, Ron Anderson, said Mr. McClard has the authority under the district’s dress-code policy to judge appropriate dress for extracurricular activities, including dances.
“It’s mainly to protect from the possibility of a disruption or something that could be viewed as a disruption,” Mr. Anderson said.
Several Scottish-heritage organizations are angry, saying the kilt is a symbol of pride and considered formal dress.
“To say the traditional Scottish dress makes you look like a clown is a direct insult to people of Scottish heritage and those who live in Scotland,” said Tom Wilson, a Texas commissioner for the Scottish heritage Clan Gunn Society of North America.