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Students slam CCSD over ‘unjust’ graduation dress code

Updated May 24, 2022 - 8:56 pm

When Ashley Garcia-Valladares and Marysol Rodriguez graduate from Rancho High School in two weeks, they want to do so wearing stoles that represent their family, culture and identity.

For Garcia-Valladares, it’s a stole with the flags of Guatemala and Mexico and a pin of the quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala. For Rodriguez, it’s a green stole meant to honor her family, her 1-year-old daughter and her Hispanic community.

But the students are working against what they call an unjust and maddening runaround that their school and the Clark County School District have given them regarding their graduation dress code.

Garcia-Valladares and Rodriguez spoke Thursday at the last regular Clark County School Board meeting of the school year to express their frustrations at being unable to wear cultural regalia to graduation.

“I want to remember graduation with this stole, medals and cords that I want to show my community, that as a first-generation student in CCSD, I was able to accomplish what seemed the impossible,” Garcia-Valladares told the board Thursday.

Garcia-Valladares said she and her fellow students had sent emails to Superintendent Jesus Jara and board President Irene Cepeda about the dress code but didn’t receive a response.

Jara said Thursday that decisions regarding what students can wear at graduation are made by individual schools, not by the district.

Following Jara’s comments, the students told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that they felt dismissed and disrespected.

“We’re not getting a clear message,” Rodriguez said. “It’s almost like we’re not being heard. It’s very disappointing. We can’t keep battling this unjust dress code weeks before our graduation.”

Athar Haseebullah, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said as in any other environment, students’ First Amendment rights don’t cease at the entrance of school doors.

Under Nevada law, school uniforms have been upheld as surviving constitutional scrutiny, but in the instance of graduation, the clothing students are asking to wear is ceremonial and wouldn’t disrupt the classroom or school environment, he said.

Additionally, not having uniformity between school sites can create a litany of problems where students in different parts of the valley are subject to different rules for what they can wear at graduation, Haseebullah said.

“It appears the district has said that it’s up to individual schools what can and can’t be done. That doesn’t really make that much sense to us,” he said. “The lack of uniformity there is a little bit problematic.”

At an assembly discussing what’s expected of students for graduation, students were told that any stoles worn must be issued by the school district and must be associated with a club at their school, according to Garcia-Valladares.

But some clubs, like Rancho’s Gay Straight Alliance or its Polynesian Club, don’t have the ability or resources to hand out commemorative stoles to its members, she said.

“It is incredibly unjust that we have to earn our culture from CCSD when it is our natural right to represent our culture, heritage and identity,” Garcia-Valladares told board members Thursday.

The students said they were ultimately told by Rancho staff that the dress code was a district issue. The students have spoken out at multiple board meetings and held a protest over the issue earlier this week outside the high school.

“Who are we coming to? Because we’re not getting anything done at our school. We’re not getting anything done here,” Rodriguez said. “We just need a clear answer.”

They are asking that students be allowed to wear cultural, ethnic and identity-based items at graduation, upon approval.

District staff connected with the students at the meeting and said they would touch base with Rancho staff following the meeting.

Haseebullah said the ACLU likely would be reaching out to the district in the coming days in an attempt to get answers about where the directive was coming from.

“It’s very infuriating and just frustrating to hear that the places that we’re supposed to go are not helping us,” Garcia-Valladares said.

A previous version misspelled the name of student Ashley Garcia-Valladares.

Contact Lorraine Longhi at 480-243-4086 or llonghi@reviewjournal.com. Follow her @lolonghi on Twitter.

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