Leticia Gonzales and her grandmother Jeanette Barlow

Graduation Cultural Regalia

The Right to Wear Traditional and Cultural Regalia at Graduation

It is graduation season, a time to celebrate and for parents and tribes to honor the accomplishments of their Native American graduates. But some schools are telling graduates they are not allowed to honor their Native American culture at graduation by wearing an eagle feather on their graduation cap, beading on their cap and gown, or other traditional and cultural regalia. Parents, students, and schools should be aware that under state law, students have the right to wear traditional and cultural regalia at their high school graduation and CILS is here to assist in protecting those rights.

In 2018, CILS and California tribes worked with Assemblymember Todd Gloria in passing AB 1248 that  amends the California Education Code § 35183.1 to specifically provide that: “A pupil may wear traditional tribal regalia or recognized objects of religious or cultural significance as an adornment at school graduation ceremonies.”  A school can only prohibit the wearing of traditional or cultural adornment (regalia) if it:  “… is likely to cause a substantial disruption of, or material interference with, the ceremony.”

The law includes important definitions you should be aware of:

(1) “Adornment” means something attached to, or worn with, but not replacing, the cap and gown customarily worn at school graduation ceremonies.

(2) “Cultural” means recognized practices and traditions of a certain group of people.

(3) “Local educational agency” means a school district, county office of education, or charter school.

Take Action

Although AB 1248 was passed in 2018, some schools are not familiar with its provisions and still attempt to stop Native American students from wearing traditional or cultural adornment.  If your school is denying you your right to wear regalia, you can contact CILS right away to assist you in communicating with your school. However, you may try to educate your school by informing them of AB 1248 and that the law allows Native American students to wear traditional and cultural regalia. If the school still insists on denying you your right, demand that the school provide you a written explanation of why the school believes that the Native American adornment is likely to cause a substantial disruption of, or material interference with, the ceremony.  If this effort fails, we encourage you to contact the CILS office closest to where you live for legal assistance.