St. Paul high school seniors fighting to wear, carry special items at graduation

Students want to reflect and celebrate diversity at their high school graduation, but some St. Paul Public Schools board members worry it could affect decorum at what's usually a sophisticated event.

Current policy requires students like Serena Jing, a senior at Central High School, to get advance approval from the superintendent if she wants to carry or wear special items at graduation.

“If I can represent my cultural heritage, I can show that I made it here and so can you,” Jing said.

That is just one reason she and fellow Central High School senior Ruby Sutton, who serves on the student engagement and advancement board, recommend the district consider aligning the graduation attire policy with the gender inclusion, racial equity, non-discrimination and equal opportunity policies already recognized district-wide.

“I think it would be really exciting for SPPS to be one of the first districts to not just tolerate or acknowledge the diversity we have, but actually celebrate it at our graduation,” Sutton said.

The issue was put front and center after then-Harding High School senior Chandra Her was asked to take off her family stole before the graduation ceremony last year.

“If she wants to celebrate her heritage it seems like a no brainer that she should be allowed to do that,” Sutton said.

While some school board members support the idea, others wonder where limitations should be set.

“Where can we draw the boundary on what is permissible and what's not because creating a standard on what it's a cultural artifact or cultural expression can get pretty broad,” a school board member said at a board meeting..

Meanwhile, other board members insist that considerations must be made for those working to make graduation a "dignified and well-run ceremony."

”I don't think allowing students to express individuality would in any way take away from the sophistication that graduation attempts to convey,” Sutton said. “I think it adds to it because we're a diverse district, we acknowledge it because we've thought about it and we know it's the right thing to do.”

Fox 9 reached out to several school board members who did not immediately return calls. The school district's spokeswoman tells Fox 9 there is no action yet on what the student board requested.