Maui girl wins right
to forget the dress

The Baldwin student may wear
slacks under her grad gown

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> A Baldwin High School student will be able to wear slacks to her graduation ceremony, under an order from the Maui School District.

District Superintendent Donna Whitford said Baldwin's graduation dress code conflicted with the legal advice provided by the Attorney General's Office about gender bias.

Whitford said 17-year-old senior Ivy Kaanana will be able to wear slacks at the ceremony on May 31.

Whitford said she spoke with Kaanana to understand her point of view.

"I felt the girl was still honoring the graduation ceremony and still honoring the other students," Whitford said. "Basically, she had to be true to herself."

Whitford said she hoped everyone involved in the graduation will view the decision as a move toward tolerance and inclusion, rather than intolerance and exclusion.

She sent a letter yesterday to school Principal Stephen Yamada, effectively overturning the ban on pants for girls in the graduation dress code developed by a committee of volunteer students.

Yamada, who supported the graduation committee's decision, said the committee felt the dress code was appropriate for the event and graduation was a privilege, not a requirement, with rules to give it a special feeling.

The American Civil Liberties Union last week challenged the committee's requirement that female students wear dresses under their graduation gowns and threatened to file a lawsuit on behalf of Kaanana.

Kaanana's mother, Helen Rosaga, said she was happy with Whitford's decision.

"I'm very glad she'll be able to walk the line with her graduating class," Rosaga said.

"I just was doing this so my daughter could be treated fairly ..."

Rosaga said her daughter has worn shorts and T-shirts to school all her life and has never worn a dress.

She said her daughter, who is planning to attend Maui Community College, worked hard to graduate from high school.

Rosaga said she wanted her daughter to experience the indescribable joy during a graduation ceremony.

Nalani Fujimori, a co-counsel with the ACLU representing Kaanana and a managing attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, said she hoped Whitford's decision would be applied statewide.

Whitford said she felt schools still had the authority and right to set dress guidelines, but they have to make sure the guidelines don't have gender bias and violate any student's rights.

In an April 29 letter to Whitford, state Deputy Attorney General Janice Kemp said schools generally have the discretion to set a dress code for graduation as long as there is a rational basis for it, such as safety.

Kemp said the Attorney General's Office believed it would be difficult to support a rational basis to require female students to wear dresses, especially when the dress would be worn under the graduation gown.

Several students on the committee declined comment.

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