Assemblymember Gloria Continues to Defend Students’ Freedom of Choice in Wearing Cultural, Religious Symbols at School Graduations

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Gloria Bill to Protect Students’ Rights to Cultural Expression During School Graduation Ceremonies Heading to Final Vote in State Senate

SACRAMENTO, CA – As California public schools proceed with summer graduation ceremonies, some students are being restrained by academic administrators from recognizing their cultural or religious heritage as they walk across the stage and receive their diploma. State legislation authored by California State Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) that would eliminate the ability of public schools to prohibit students from wearing items of cultural or religious significance during graduation ceremonies has received its final committee approval and is now headed to the full State Senate for consideration.

In California, we truly believe we are a place for everyone. We have pride in our communities and our rich diversity is something we celebrate because it reflects who we are as people. Our communities and neighborhoods should be vibrant, alive, and culturally diverse places for everyone,” said Assemblymember Todd Gloria. “Regrettably, we know some public schools are actively prohibiting students from recognizing their cultural or religious heritage as they graduate – one of the biggest days of their lives. Working together, we can fix this and ensure it never happens again to any student with my bill, AB 1248.”

Just last week, a Native American student at El Capitan High School in Lakeside, California was prevented from wearing an eagle feather – a highly revered symbol in Native American culture – at his high school graduation ceremony. In 2016, an African-American student was not permitted by school officials to wear kente cloth – a fabric worn during important occasions in African culture – at his commencement ceremony. In 2014, eight Native American high school seniors were restricted from wearing eagle feathers as part of their graduation regalia. 

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. Some districts have adopted “no adornment” policies for graduation ceremonies which specifically disallow the display of cultural adornments. AB 1248 explicitly adds to the education code that students have “the right to wear religious, ceremonial, or cultural adornments at school graduation ceremonies.” In addition, AB 1248 adds a provision that could allow school districts to prohibit such items should they cause a “substantial disruption” or “interfere with” the graduation ceremony.

AB 1248 is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, California Teachers Association, California Tribal Business Alliance, National Association of Social Workers (California chapter), and 16 tribal nations from across the state.

The full text of AB 1248 can be found here.