Published in the April 13, 2016 edition


WAKEFIELD – When the Wakefield Memorial High School Class of 2016 holds its commencement ceremonies on Saturday, June 4, graduates will be wearing “gender-neutral” graduation gowns. In the past boys have worn red gowns and girls have worn white.
The decision to move to gender neutral gowns was first conveyed to parents of WMHS seniors in a letter from principal Richard Metropolis dated April 7, 2016. The matter was also addressed at last night’s School Committee meeting by Superintendent Dr. Kim Smith, although no School Committee members weighed in on the issue.
In his letter, Metropolis states, “I am writing to inform you all that Wakefield Memorial High School is adopting gender-neutral coloration for all of our students participating in graduation as members of the class of 2016 and beyond.”
The letter offers no specific reason for the change, except to say that it was being done “in support of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recommendation that schools should eliminate gender-based dress codes for the school day, special events and especially graduation ceremonies.”
The letter goes on to say, “The high school administration has collaborated with members of the senior class over many hours in an effort to arrive at a consensus around how to best represent our school’s Core Values.”
Metropolis’ letter says that there were multiple meetings between students and administrators before school, at lunch, after school and via e-mail.
In fact, the Item has learned that after being informed of the administration’s decision on gender-neutral graduation gowns, many seniors signed a petition insisting upon having a role in this decision related to their graduation ceremony.
According to Metropolis’ letter and what Smith said last night, graduates will still wear red or white gowns, but it will be without regard to gender. Using the red and white gowns, the plan is to create a seating arrangement for graduates whereby a “16” will be formed as seen from the guest seats in the Field House on graduation day.
Smith said after last night’s School Committee meeting that the original idea was for all students wearing the same red graduation gown but that wasn’t what the students wanted.
“The students said they wanted to keep the red and white tradition,” Smith said. “The kids wanted to keep the traditional colors in some way.”
During last night’s meeting, Smith referred School Committee members to a 13-page document from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The document sets out guidelines for public schools on “creating a safe and supportive school environment” and “non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity.” The document was included in School Committee members’ meeting packets.
Smith commended the high school administration, the faculty and the students for their roles in the process that led to the ultimate decision on the graduation day gowns. She said that the decision reflected one of her “core values.”
“We want to make sure that we do what is best not for some kids or not even for most kids but what is best for all children.”
Smith said that these decisions are never easy.
“But it looks like they’ve come up with a creative way to keep some red and white in their graduation ceremony but at the same time making it gender neutral.”