PLAISTOW — Timberlane Regional High School is planning to end its tradition of offering white and burgundy graduation caps and gowns by replacing them with one color for all students, but the proposal has sparked a debate that has led to a petition urging the administration to leave things alone.
School leaders and students are reviewing various options for a new cap and gown that would be worn by the 2020 graduates in June.
Female students have traditionally worn white gowns while males have worn burgundy, but four years ago the school made a change allowing students to choose white or burgundy.
Discussions are now underway regarding doing away with the two colors in favor of one.
Superintendent Earl Metzler said he is sensitive to tradition, but realizes that times have changed.
“It’s about all students being treated the same at Timberlane with one graduation robe for all. It really was about acceptance and inclusiveness,” he said, adding that other schools have already made similar changes.
The proposal prompted Atkinson mother Brianne Cazmay-Biros to start an online petition at change.org asking the school to keep the white and burgundy colors and allow students of any gender to have the option to pick the color they want.
“If you’re being given the choice of two colors how are you being excluded? I’d like them to at least consider that their decisions are going to affect everybody. They already took gender out three years ago and I don’t see why they need to change it,” Cazmay-Biros said.
One gown option under consideration is a burgundy gown with variations of white stripes to incorporate both colors. Another option is a burgundy gown with a white stole.
Cazmay-Biros said her daughter, Alex, is a junior and won’t be graduating for another year, but wants her to have the option to wear white like others in the past. Some signs have also popped up at the school calling for a white gown option.
She initially expressed concerns about whether she could get the new custom designed gown in the right size for her daughter, who has a genetic form of dwarfism known as achondroplasia.
However, Cazmay-Biros has since been told by school administrators that the school will make sure that her daughter is properly fitted for the new gown style.
More than 600 people have signed the petition, which she said she plans to present to the school board at its meeting Thursday night. Of those who have signed the petition, Cazmay-Biros said she estimates that about 400 are people from the Timberlane community.
Timberlane Principal Donald Woodworth said students and school leaders are continuing to discuss the change this week and that students may be surveyed about adding a white gown to the mix of burgundy gowns with stripes as another option before one color is picked to be worn by all students.
Woodworth said he hopes a decision on the final color and style is made by Dec. 15.
“We’re just trying to be considerate of all students,” he said. “We think we’re doing the right thing by going down this road.”
Woodworth acknowledged that the discussion has led to a “mixed bag” of opinions. Some students prefer white caps because they’re easier to decorate, he said.
He pointed to at least one other benefit to having one cap and gown color. When students have been given the option of white or burgundy in recent years, he said some have accidentally checked off the wrong color when ordering their gowns. He said the school ends up with about 15 to 20 such cases each year.
With one color, he said, “you don’t run into that potential for confusion.”