Cultural or religious garb may soon have a place at graduation ceremonies across Tucson’s largest school district.
The TUSD governing board unanimously voted on Dec. 11 to temporarily allow students to don culturally significant clothing at their December 2018 graduations. They tabled permanently modifying the policy until early 2019.
The proposed update to the policy would give blanket approval to certain types of cultural regalia, so that every student wouldn’t be required to ask for special approval. It would also put the responsibility of approving any requests not addressed in the new policy on the Tucson Unified School District.
The board action was a direct response to requests from Native American students, who felt it was unjust and problematic that they couldn’t wear clothing sacred to their respective tribes at graduation.
The students, led by Pueblo High School senior Lourdes Pereira and Pueblo alumna Madeleine Jeans, asked the TUSD board to consider revising its existing graduation dress code policy, which only permits students to wear a cap and gown and, in some cases, sashes and honor cords.
Wearing sacred tribal clothing is a extremely personal, profound experience, Jeans told the TUSD board at the Dec. 11 meeting.
“This is our religious right,” Jeans, a member of the Navajo Nation, said. She had to petition the board herself, last year, when she needed approval to wear her tribe’s sacred clothing at graduation. Her own struggle inspired her to organize on behalf of current TUSD students in a similar situation.
Pereira, a 17-year-old graduating in May, said students shouldn’t have to request to wear clothing representative of their cultural roots, just because graduation is a special occasion.
“If I can wear Native American regalia during school, I don’t see why I can’t wear it during graduation,” Pereira said. “Students should be able to wear Native regalia at graduation without restrictions or permission. Others should be able to wear religious attire.”
Board member Kristen Ann Foster, who brought the proposed policy change onto the Dec. 11 agenda, said she worried offering blanket approvals might lead to some students appropriating cultures they don’t belong to.
TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said he supported approving whole categories of cultural dress because it would take the burden of getting approved on a case-by-case basis off most students.
The district has not announced when they will address the permanent policy change next, but it’s next scheduled board meeting is Tuesday, Jan. 29.