Bill to Protect Students’ Rights to Showcase Diversity at Graduation Ceremonies Sent to Governor

Thursday, September 7, 2017

AB 233 by Assemblymember Gloria Clears Legislature, Bill Would Preserve the Right to Wear Cultural Adornments at Graduation

SACRAMENTO, CA – Legislation authored by California State Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) that would protect students’ rights to wear items of cultural significance on Graduation Day – a practice previously prohibited by some school districts in California – received its final legislative approval today and was sent to Governor Brown.

Part of our values as Californians is that we honor and celebrate our diversity. Our students are no exception, and each of them has a right to recognize their cultural and religious traditions on Graduation Day and every day,” said Assemblymember Todd Gloria, the only enrolled Native American tribal member serving in the California State Legislature. “As a member of the Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, this bill has held personal significance to me and I am grateful for the support of my Assembly and Senate colleagues. Now, it is my hope that Governor Brown will sign this bill into law and help preserve freedom of expression for all California students.”

Under current law, the Education Code gives school districts the authority to develop and enforce reasonable dress code policies. This includes appropriate and inappropriate graduation attire. Unfortunately, some districts have adopted “no adornment” policies for graduation ceremonies which specifically disallow the display of cultural adornments.

In 2014, eight Native American high school seniors were restricted from wearing eagle feathers – a highly revered symbol of one’s passage into adulthood – as part of their graduation regalia. In 2016, an African-American student was not permitted to wear kente cloth – an important symbol of pride and achievement in African culture – at his commencement ceremony.

AB 233 explicitly prohibits this practice in California school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools. Specifically, the bill amends California Education Code § 35183 to explicitly permit students to wear religious, ceremonial, or cultural adornments at school graduation ceremonies. The full text of AB 233 can be found here.

AB 233 is sponsored by California Indian Legal Services and supported by the California Teachers Association, the California Tribal Business Alliance, the National Association of Social Workers, and over 20 Indian tribes across California.  

Assemblymember Gloria is introduced AB 233 in January and the bill passed the Assembly in April.