Bill takes another swing at promoting cultural expression

Bill takes another swing at promoting cultural expression

(Calif.) Members of California’s Senate education committee signaled strong support Wednesday for a bill vetoed last year that would allow for students to wear cultural adornments at graduation.

AB 1248 by Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego specifies that a student has the right to wear religious, ceremonial or cultural adornments at school graduation ceremonies–such as eagle feathers, which signify a transition into adulthood for certain Native American tribes.

Gloria introduced an identical bill last year that passed both the Senate and Assembly with only one “no” vote, but was it vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown who, in his veto message, said that dress code issues at graduation ceremonies should be up to local discretion.

During the education committee’s meeting Wednesday, Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Antelope Valley, called the bill a just cause, and noted that as an equal part of state government, the Legislature could and should supersede Brown’s decision should he decline to sign AB 1248.

“This airs on the side of student choice and student freedom which we should all be supporting,” said Wilk, who also vice chairs the committee. “I would like to see that if we have a problem with the governor this time around that we do a veto override.”

Committee chair Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, agreed that lawmakers should consider such an option, and Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, said that the Legislature should “go to all means to make sure it gets passed this year.”

Currently, districts have the authority to develop and enforce reasonable dress code policies, which includes determining what is and isn’t appropriate graduation attire. Some districts have adopted “no adornment” policies for graduation ceremonies, which has led to a number of issues in California in recent years.

In 2016, sheriff deputies were called to escort a high school student from his graduation ceremony when he refused to remove a kente cloth stole he was wearing. The colorful fabric sash is an important symbol of pride and achievement in African culture.

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

In some cases, such decisions result in litigation, which Gloria said his bill would reduce by simply creating a uniform policy relating to graduation ceremonies only.

As the bill’s sole official opposition, the California School Boards Association argued that the bill would only lead to more problems. A representative from the CSBA told lawmakers that under AB 1248, administrators would need to make split second decisions on what additions to the cap and gown would be allowed and what would constitute a substantial disruption–something that could prove quite disruptive on the day of graduation and subject school districts to more litigation.

Additionally, the representative argued, while lawmakers may agree that an eagle feather isn’t disruptive, the bill could open the door for students to adorn their caps and gowns with other regalia they consider to be a sign of their heritage, such as the confederate flag or Nazi symbols.

Senator Allen agreed that there is debate around whether the confederate flag, for example, is an expression of pride in Southern culture. However, he noted, the bill maintains a district’s authority to prohibit an item that is likely to cause a substantial disruption of a graduation ceremony.

The bill passed unanimously, with at least three members of the committee–senators Wilk, Vidak and Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton–signing on as co-authors.

Other bills that passed out of the education committee include:

  • AB 2009, which requires school districts and charters that participate in interscholastic athletics to have at least one automatic external defibrillator, or AED, at each school site to protect student athletes from sudden cardiac arrest;
  • AB 2285, which removes the requirement for teachers prepared out-of-state to earn a master’s degree or complete 150 hours of professional development when seeking a clear teaching credential in California; and
  • AB 2800, which adds basic understanding of the signs and symptoms of, and appropriate responses to, heat illness, to the training component the California High School Coaching Education and Training Program.

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