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  • Writer's pictureVoces Unidas Action Fund

Every student should be able to celebrate their culture

Voces Unidas Action Fund is pleased to announce the introduction of HB24-1070, Allowing Certain Items at School Graduation, one of our priority bills for this legislative session.

 

Sponsored in the House by Reps. Elizabeth Velasco (HD-57) and Tim Hernández (HD-4), and in the Senate by Sen. Rhonda Fields (SD-28), the bill allows any preschool, public school, or public college or university student to wear and display religious or cultural regalia at a graduation ceremony. It also prohibits such schools from restricting what a student may wear under their graduation attire.

 

The bill moves next to the House Education Committee. Full text of HB24-1070 is available HERE.

 

“We are excited to partner with Reps. Velasco and Hernández and Sen. Fields, along with a coalition of graduates and current students, to introduce legislation that will make it a right for students to participate in their graduations as their full selves,” said Alex Sánchez, President and CEO of the Glenwood Springs-based Voces Unidas Action Fund. “Far too many young people have been denied the opportunity to celebrate their religion, culture, country of origin and sexual orientation during this milestone event. It is time for Colorado to address this gap in state law.”

 

Expanding on last year’s SB23-202, co-led by Velasco, requires schools or school districts to allow qualified students to wear and display traditional Native American regalia at a school graduation ceremony, HB24-1070 takes the additional step of including culture and religion for all federally protected classes of students. Culture is defined to include protected classes based on disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, family composition, religion, age, national origin, or ancestry. The definition does not include items related to incitement, defamation, fraud, obscenity, child pornography, fighting words, and threats.

 

“I am excited to introduce this legislation that will protect students' freedom to showcase the traditions and backgrounds that have molded them into the strong graduates they are today,” Rep. Velasco said upon introduction. “By allowing students to embrace their heritage and identities during graduation, we are not only promoting individual expression but also cultivating stronger dialogues and insights within our educational institutions. It is a step towards building a future where every graduate can walk across the stage with pride, knowing that their identity is not only acknowledged, but celebrated.”


The need for HB24-1070 was driven by Colorado students being denied their ability to express their cultural heritage, country of origin, sexual orientation and religious traditions in some schools as recently as last year. Several Colorado students have had to sue their own school districts in federal court after being denied the ability to participate in their own graduation ceremonies while wearing symbols and adornments representing their culture or country of origin.

 

Most recently, Parachute student Naomi Peña sued in 2023 because her school district would not allow her to wear a stole with the Mexican and American flag colors. In 1998, two students from Arvada sued their school district because they would not allow them to wear a Kente-cloth stole at their graduation. All of these students lost their cases in federal court because Colorado law has yet to recognize the importance of young people being able to celebrate their culture, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other groups.

 

“This bill ensures that schools cannot infringe on the right of any graduate to wear cultural or religious regalia to celebrate their accomplishments,” Sen. Fields said. “Our country has a long and tragic history of forcing people to assimilate. It’s time for Colorado to enshrine these rights and protect students, so they can participate in their graduations while also following their traditions.”

 

To further support of HB24-1070, Voces Unidas has created a coalition of current and former students, along with 10 community organizations. Gov. Jared Polis expressed support for a legislative fix last year, acknowledging that all students should be able to celebrate their culture and religion at a bill signing ceremony for SB23-202.

 

Support by endorsing HB24-1070 HERE.

  


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