EAST SETAUKET, N.Y. – Ward Melville High School students are revolting against the school’s decision to do away with a 50-year tradition to introduce “more inclusive” graduation gowns for this year’s commencement.
In the past, girls at the school wore gold and boys wore green for graduation, but East Setauket school officials changed the practice to a green gown and gold stole for all graduates starting with the 2017 ceremony, Newsday reports.
The decision came without notice, and prompted about 100 students to walk out of class in protest on Wednesday.
On Thursday, school officials issued a letter to parents explaining the decision is a “progressive” effort to accommodate transgender students.
Principal Alan Baum noted the district’s 50th anniversary in 2017, and wrote “on June 25, our district will begin a new tradition, as Ward Melville High School joins a growing list of high schools on Long Island and across the country to provide our graduating seniors with a single color cap and gown.”
“It is our hope that creating a unifying color scheme will eliminate the anxiety that is caused by forcing a young adult to wear a gown that labels them differently than how they identify,” he wrote.
The change “also reflects the progressive nature of our district, our high school and our community,” Baum wrote. “We are no longer separating students by gender; rather, we will be promoting a more inclusive practice at graduation.”
“For the seniors on graduation day, it is important for us to have different color gowns to walk in. This means having the girls wear gold and the boys wear green, and if there are people that identify as a gender other than the one that they received at birth, then they should choose which color they prefer,” the petition reads.
“This has been a tradition for all of the classes before us to wear their school colors one last time and this should not be changed.”
Senior Rachel Keane told Newsday school officials never notified students about the change.
“To completely change our 50-year tradition based on the discomfort of a small population of students to pick a color they like best is unfair to the rest of the population,” she said.
“Personally, for me this has not been about whether students at our school are transgender or not, but rather the fact that a longstanding tradition has been taken from us without notice,” said senior Max Gironda, who created the petition.
The new gown policy seems to have unnecessarily divided students.
More than 550 folks have also signed on to a counter petition on Change.org calling for school officials to stand their ground in the face of mounting opposition to the new gowns.
“Allowing everyone to feel comfortable and happy on their graduation day is what is ultimately important. These colors should in no way divide us or box us in to ideas we do not agree with. We should all graduate as a united class, accepting our differences and embracing what makes us a diverse population of people in order to improve our society as a whole,” according to the petition.
“And we can only do this by accepting everyone for who they are and respecting their discomforts.”