Caps and gowns to make a statement at Turners Falls

  • Turners Falls High School

Staff writer
Published: 3/28/2019 11:29:46 PM

MONTAGUE – With a unanimous vote from the Gill Montague Regional School Committee, the caps and gowns for Turners Falls High School’s graduating seniors will be blue across the board.

The decision was prompted by an appeal by the high school’s chapter of the Bridges for Social Justice program to have one color for all students.

But due to the abruptness of the decision, students will be allowed to choose between blue or white for this spring’s graduation.

Heather Katsoulis, Mike Langknecht, Thomasina Hall, William Tomb and Jennifer Lively were the school committee members present for the vote Tuesday.

Turners joins other schools in Franklin County with gender-neutral gowns, including Greenfield, Mohawk, Frontier, Mahar and Franklin County Technical School. Pioneer Regional High School allows students to choose between black or white gowns.

Sophomore Mercedes Morales and junior Chantelle Monaghan of the Bridges for Social Justice program at the school came to the School Committee to propose that seniors wear blue gowns and white stoles.

“At this time of year, we begin to feel the excitement of the seniors graduating and the ceremony that demonstrates their achievement,” Monaghan said. “However, for some, the ceremony becomes conflicting. Last year three young ladies requested to wear blue and not the traditional white…This assignment of a color to gender is both sexist and discriminatory to our female and LGBTQ community.”

Morales said graduates should be able to celebrate without fear of being labeled a gender they may not identify with, and while allowing students to be able to choose, there is also concern about students being bullied for not conforming.

“It may also make a young person uncomfortable if they are in the midst of questioning their own identity at a very vulnerable age to make such a public statement,” Morales said.

The students said a volunteer is willing to sew the stoles for the cost of materials, which is estimated at $100 and the group would be willing to secure the funds.

Due to the fact the cap and gown orders needed to be made before the next School Committee meeting April 9, Superintendent Michael Sullivan said there wouldn’t be enough time to continue the conversation to a further date.

“The timing is really difficult,” Sullivan. “I know that with anything significant you want more than one meeting to mull it over. High schools are doing this, I think it’s a good thing to do I’m concerned about springing it on our current seniors right now without being able to for you all to deliberate more.”

Hall said while she believes the school should be proactive and be more welcoming, she believes there should be more conversation.

Kolodziej said considering the fact the group Bridges for Social Justice gave a presentation to the senior class and the majority of participants weren’t in agreement, she believed there should be further education before a change is made.

“If you have a tradition and this town certainly has a lot of them, as you’ve seen with the change with the mascot, it can create a huge problem,” Kolodziej said.

School Committee Member Jennifer Lively said just because the majority of the group may not like it, doesn’t mean the school shouldn’t change.

“I think with the current issues that we’re facing, this is another step in correcting the course we were on and making all students in the school feel comfortable,” she said.

Tomb proposed allowing students to choose between blue or white rather than requiring them to be assigned based on gender. “That preserves tradition, allows for flexibility and could lead to being a better comfort zone for the community,” Tomb said.

Hall disagreed, saying that allowing for both colors would open students up for bullying, and she would prefer the neutral option presented.

Katsoulis, vice chair of the committee and acting chair for the evening, said she would like to see the change but felt she wanted to hear from both sides.

“However, I don’t know if we can for this year,” she said. “They can have a choice if we can make it clear that it’s a choice of color, not gender.”

Kolodziej said she believed people would have a problem with the abruptness of the decision.

You can reach Melina Bourdeau at mbourdeau@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.




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