Senior is denied graduation over dress
A Kaimuki High School senior who refuses to wear a dress under her graduation robe will not be allowed to march onstage at the Waikiki Shell tonight to collect her diploma.
"I wear boys' clothes, I'm a tomboy," said the 20-year-old student. "I think they're discriminating against me." She asked to be identified only as Devon.
"I have my robe, I have all my requirements, my name is in the pamphlet," the senior said.
She said she would like to wear shorts and a light shirt under the robe, but when she talked to a vice principal about it, he told her she could not participate in the ceremony unless she complied with the standard of dress. "He made me sign this paper that I don't want to walk. When he called my mom, she started to cry because she wants me to walk.
"I don't know what difference it would make; you can't see what's on under the robe," said Devon, who describes herself as bisexual.
The issue of gender-based dress codes has been raised in past graduations. In 2002, Department of Education officials relaxed the rules after the American Civil Liberties Union intervened on behalf of students. Ivy Kaanana wore shorts under her robe at the Baldwin High School graduation on Maui, and Keala Chow, a boy who was taking female hormones, wore a dress under the robe at the McKinley High School commencement.
Kaimuki High School Principal Dennis Manalili said information on the dress standard for graduation was distributed in January. "Females are asked to wear a white or light-colored dress without a collar. Boys must wear a white dress shirt, black dress slacks and black dress shoes.
"All students have a right to appeal to the principal or to the superintendent," Manalili said. "No one appealed regarding dress. If an appeal was made to me, I would give it every consideration and consult others. A decision would be made on a case-by-case determination."
About 20 of the 240 graduating seniors signed the form indicating they will not participate in the commencement ceremony, he said. They are not required to give a reason. "Once they indicated they would not participate, I felt it was no longer an issue," he said.
The school requires seniors to attend rehearsals, practicing a class song as well as the staging of the ceremony. Manalili said there have been six rehearsals, and another practice was set for this morning.
Greg Knudsen, DOE public information officer, said: "The department has said schools should not dictate gender-based dress. Female students should be allowed to wear slacks. There is a history that allows students to have some leeway, not being too narrow in defining what is female attire and what is male attire.
"They can designate some level of formality or a color appropriate to the occasion," Knudsen said.
After talking to Kaimuki High School officials, Knudsen said the school requirement that students participate in graduation practice has not been met in this case.
Devon said she attended one rehearsal with a teacher.