School Committee member Megan Eckroth (left) reads a policy recommendation as Mingquan Zheng and Steven MacMaster listen. WESTFORDCAT PHOTO

Recommendation regarding Westford Academy Graduation Robes from the School Committee Policy Subcommittee

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The following was presented by the School Committee on Dec. 3 as a policy recommendation.

The Policy Subcommittee is currently in the process of reviewing and revising the policy on Student Dress / School Dress, P5323.

One of our goals in revising P5323 is to eliminate unnecessary and/or discriminatory gender distinctions in the dress code policy itself, and also in dress codes contained in any student handbooks, pertaining to student dress for regular school days, field trips, and other special events.

This policy review process will be completed in early 2019 but it came to our attention that any new policy would not be finalized before the need to order graduation robes for the Class of 2019. Given the timing, we decided to raise the issue of the robe colors with School Committee and the Westford Academy administration, prior to the completion of the review of P5323.

Part of the motivation for this policy review and removal of unnecessary and/or discriminatory gender distinctions in our school dress codes stems from another policy adopted last October 2017 pertaining to transgender and gender nonconforming students.

Wesford Policy 5325 states: As a general matter, schools should evaluate all gender-based activities, rules, policies, and practices—including but not limited to classroom activities, extra-curricular activities, school ceremonies, school photos, and documentation requests, such as field trip permission forms, and maintain only those that have a clear and sound pedagogical purpose and do not violate anti-discrimination law.

The Mass DESE document for “Guidance for Massachusetts Public Schools Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment: Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity” states that: The new law on gender identity provides a good opportunity for schools to review their gender-distinct policies. For example, some schools require students to wear gender-based garb for graduation or have gender-based dress codes for prom, special events, and daily attire.

Schools should eliminate gendered policies and practices such as these. For example, one school that previously had blue graduation gowns for boys and white ones for girls switched to blue gowns for all graduates. The school also changed its gender-based dress code for the National Honor Society ceremony, which had required girls to wear dresses.

The Policy Subcommittee feels that there is no clear and sound pedagogical purpose to having different color graduation robes for male and female students. Also in accordance with the clear example provided above by the DESE, best practice would dictate having one color graduation robes for all of our graduates.

The Policy Subcommittee further finds additional reasons to support the practice of having all graduates wear one color, presumably maroon, graduation robes: ● Unity: Having one color robe would signify class unity and the shared accomplishment of all our graduates. ● School Spirit: White is not a school color. All graduates should be able to wear our school color maroon at their graduation with WA pride. ● Unnecessary Expense/Inconvenience: The white robes are so thin that students may feel compelled to buy white clothes to wear underneath. This creates an additional expense for graduates and could pose a hardship for some families. ● Modern Trend: Superintendent Olsen’s survey of other districts in Massachusetts indicated that almost 70 percent of those that responded (59 out of 85) wear one color robe.

The Policy Subcommittee does recognize that having two color robes, white and maroon, has been a longstanding tradition at WA. We have also considered the suggestion from some members of the Class of 2019 that we permit all seniors to choose their color robe without regard to gender but still offer the two traditional choices of maroon and white.

The Policy Subcommittee feels that this is an imperfect solution and does not fully comply with the directive of our policy and the Mass DESE. Given the longstanding tradition of associating robe color with gender, we feel that this is not a fully inclusive choice. It could also result in logistical complications with the graduation robe vendor.

However, given that our dress code policy review has not been fully completed at this time and given the timing issues involved for the current seniors, we feel that it is within administrative discretion to permit such a “color choice” compromise for the Class of 2019.

We would further like to clarify that every effort should be made to communicate that this a genuine choice and every student should feel free to select either a maroon or white robe without regard to gender or past tradition. Going forward, however, after the student dress policy review is completed, the Policy Subcommittee recommends moving to maroon robes for all graduates of the Class of 2020 and for all subsequent graduating classes. It is our further hope that all students will benefit from this new, inclusive and unified tradition going forward. (Approved by Policy Subcommittee, 11/29/18)