Gloria Reintroduces Bill to Protect Students’ Rights to Wear Cultural Adornments at Graduation

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Gloria Brings Back Legislation to Preserve Students’ Rights to Freedom of Expression, Bill Clears First Hurdle in Assembly Education Committee

SACRAMENTO, CA – California State Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) announced today that he has reintroduced legislation to protect the rights of California students to wear items of cultural significance on graduation day – a practice previously prohibited in some school districts across California. After being vetoed by the Governor last year, the bill has been reintroduced as AB 1248 and received its first approval today by the Assembly Education Committee.

Some students in California are prohibited from recognizing their cultural and religious heritage on one of the most important days of their lives. We shouldn’t accept that,” said Assemblymember Todd Gloria. “Students have a right to walk with cultural and religious pride on their Graduation Day and the law ought to be clear that no one can take that away. That’s why I remain committed to passing this bill.” 

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.

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 1248, formerly AB 233, 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. The full text of AB 1248 can be found here.

AB 1248 is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, National Association of Social Workers – California Chapter, and several California tribal nations.

Assemblymember Gloria is a member of the Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and the California State Legislature’s only enrolled tribal member.