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  • Writer's pictureVoces Unidas Action Fund

Voces Unidas celebrates signing of graduation attire legislation

On Wednesday, June 5, we were thrilled to learn that Gov. Jared Polis signed HB24-1323 School Graduation Attire into law. This moment was incredibly special for us at Voces Unidas, as it marked the culmination of over a year's dedicated effort to ensure that every student can celebrate their culture and religion at graduation. This legislation has been a top priority for us, and seeing it become a reality is a victory for all students.

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 new law allows any “preschool, public school, or public college or university student to wear objects of cultural or religious significance as an adornment at a graduation ceremony.” The law also prohibits any school from restricting what students may wear under their required graduation attire beyond what is in the school dress code.

[Full text of HB24-1323 is available HERE.]

“After many long days, weeks, and months spent working with Reps. Velasco and Hernández and Sen. Fields, along with a coalition of graduates and current students, we are excited to see this legislation become state law making 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. We want to thank our legislators and Gov. Polis for addressing this gap in state law.”

Following on the heels of last year’s SB23-202, co-led by Velasco, requiring schools or school districts to allow qualified students to wear and display traditional Native American regalia at a school graduation ceremony, HB24-1323 takes the additional step of including culture and religion for all federally protected classes of students.

“This new law will protect students' freedom to showcase the traditions and backgrounds that have molded them into the strong graduates they are today,” Rep. Velasco said. “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 HB24-1323 was driven by Colorado students being denied their fundamental First Amendment right to express their cultural heritage, country of origin, sexual orientation, and religious traditions in some schools as recently as 2023. 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.

After engaging in this issue with local student leader Naomi Peña Villasano of Parachute last year, HB24-1323 became a priority bill for Voces Unidas during the 2024 legislative session. Peña Villasano filed suit against the Garfield-16 School District for the right to wear a stole adorned with symbols of both the Mexican and American flags at graduation last spring, eventually joining the list of students who lost their cases in federal court because Colorado law had yet to recognize the importance of young people being able to celebrate their cultural heritage. She and Voces Unidas worked closely with Rep. Velasco and other sponsors to draft the bill and advocate for its passage in the state legislature.

“This law ensures that schools can no longer 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. But Colorado has demonstrated true leadership in enshrining these rights and protecting students, so they can participate in their graduations while also following their traditions.”

Now that HB24-1323 has been signed by Gov. Polis, the new law will take effect immediately, requiring Colorado’s public schools and institutions of higher learning to develop and adopt a policy that aligns with its requirements by the start of the 2024-25 school year.



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