WESTFORD ACADEMY: Tradition of White Gowns at Graduation to Change in 2020

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A debate over the color of gowns at Westford Academy’s graduation ceremony lit a spark in town that culminated with Superintendent Everett V. Olsen’s announcement on Dec. 17 that the tradition will change in 2020.

Traditionally at WA, boys wear maroon gowns and girls wear white at the June ceremony.

But in June 2020, every graduating senior will wear a maroon gown only. This is the decision announced Dec. 17 by Olsen after he and the School Committee listened to public comments, for and against change, over the course of two meetings in December.

“I’m going to make a decision,” Olsen said. “For the 2019 graduating class — the current seniors at Westford Academy — we maintain the robes we have, the maroon and white…because I think it would be disruptive to the class at this point and time to make change. It provides us with a year of transition to be observant…” Olsen said in 2020 WA would comply with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s new policy entitled “Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students.”

As a compromise to those who wanted to maintain the white robes, Olsen proposed draping an academic stole of white, grey or maroon over the robes in 2020 for a “nice look.”

According to the policy, “the gender identity law amended G.L. c. 76, § 5,2 to establish that no person shall be excluded from or discriminated against in admission to a public school of any town, or in obtaining the advantages, privileges and courses of study of such public school on account of gender identity, among other characteristics. The amended Access to Equal Educational Opportunity regulations, 603 CMR 26.00, and the non-discrimination provision of the Charter School regulations, 603 CMR 1.00, require schools to establish policies and procedures, provide training, and implement and monitor practices to ensure that obstacles to equal access to school programs are removed for all students, including transgender and gender nonconforming students.”

The policy continues, “all districts and schools should review existing policies, handbooks, and other written materials to ensure that they are updated to reflect the new law. At a minimum, this means including the category of ‘gender identity’ within the identification of legally protected characteristics.”

The DESE Policy

“Every person shall have a right to attend the public schools of the town where he actually resides, subject to the following section. No school committee is required to enroll a person who does not actually reside in the town unless said enrollment is authorized by law or by the school committee. Any person who violates or assists in the violation of this provision may be required to remit full restitution to the town of the improperly-attended public schools. No person shall be excluded from or discriminated against in admission to a public school of any town, or in obtaining the advantages, privileges and courses of study of such public school on account of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.”

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