Bill promotes diverse cultural dress at commencement

Bill promotes diverse cultural dress at commencement

(Calif.) In yet another expression of California independence from national norms, high school seniors will be given formal freedom of expression in their dress during graduation ceremonies, under a new bill pending in the Assembly.

Author of AB 233–Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego–said his bill is just small step toward exposing students to the type of diversity they will see later in life, while at the same time allowing their peers to express pride in their cultural ties.

“I think current troubles aside, the future of the world is incredibly diverse, and whatever we can do to make sure our young people today understand what an asset that is, and are able to celebrate it and operate in a multicultural world, will make us be better off as a community,” Gloria said in an interview. “I think these young people will be far better prepared to live and succeed in this rapidly diversifying world.”

Issues surrounding religious or cultural freedoms clashing with school rules have made national headlines in recent years.

Last year, sheriff deputies were called to escort a Consumnes Oaks High School student from his graduation ceremony when he refused to remove a kente cloth stole he was wearing–which is an important symbol of pride and achievement in African culture. District officials initially acted because the cloth violated dress codes, but they have since relaxed the rules.

Another case in 2014, a Sikh child in Washington was permitted to carry a Kirpan, a small dagger, at school under his clothes despite public concern over other students’ safety. The district ultimately cited state and federal guidelines that allow certain exceptions to the state’s “zero tolerance" for weapons policy and allowed the student to keep his religious instrument as long as he kept it out of sight.

And in 2014, eight Native American high school students in California were restricted from wearing eagle feathers–a highly revered symbol of achievement and the transition into adulthood–as part of their graduation regalia.

Currently, the California Education Code allows for school districts to develop policies related to appropriate and inappropriate school attire, including what students can and cannot wear during graduation ceremonies. While many already approve of students’ choices to incorporate aspects of their culture into their graduation attire, others enforce “no adornment” policies during commencement ceremonies.

Gloria said that his bill would simply create a uniform policy relating to graduation ceremonies only.

The bill has received support from the California Indian Legal Services group, which said in a statement that the legislation would permit students a greater ability to exercise the right the Freedom of Speech and honor their heritage, tribal family and community.

Gloria, himself a member of the Tlingit-Haida Tribes of Alaska, noted that although the bill does not call for sweeping changes, it does push forward California lawmakers’ overall goal of promoting diversity within the state.

“This should be a day for celebration–not a day for litigation or conflict, but just a day these students can be able to remember as a positive thing for the rest of their lives,” Gloria said. “Now more than ever we as Californians need to assert our beliefs in the power and benefits of diversity, and this is just one small way of doing that.”