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Dress code being considered for Milton graduation commencement

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
October 5, 2011
— After school officials allowed two students to wear military uniforms to Milton High School's commencement last spring, the Milton School District is considering setting a dress code for graduation ceremonies.

Superintendent Mike Garrow said Milton High School Principal Jeremy Bilhorn plans to poll other school districts to learn whether they have policies on graduation attire.


The Milton district has no dress code for graduation, although administrators advise students on guidelines for attire at commencement.


District administrators would take any recommendation from Bilhorn to the board's policy committee.


Last spring, the district allowed two students, both of whom had graduated early and had just finished boot camp for the Marines, to wear military uniforms instead of traditional caps and gowns. The students' parents had sought permission from the district.


If district administrators propose a graduation dress code, it wouldn't target students with military ties, Garrow said.


"The intent isn't to say are we allowing military (attire) or we aren't allowing military (attire). It's a broader context for us," he said.


Garrow said the district's ultimate goal is to keep the focus on graduation.


"It's a school formal occasion. They're here to celebrate a landmark event in education," he said. "You want it to be a smooth event."


Garrow was not superintendent last spring, but he said he's learned that district administrators already were discussing an "overarching graduation policy" including a dress code at the same time that the students asked to wear Marine uniforms.


School officials initially barred the two students from wearing their uniforms, but a group of local parents with military ties pressured the district to reconsider.


Meanwhile, the district received a barrage of emails from people outside the district, some accusing school officials of being unpatriotic and anti-military.


In the end, the district relented.


"It was darned if you do, darned if you don't. You tried to stop it, and you're anti-military. Although that was certainly not the case," Garrow said.


The decision to let students wear military regalia instead of a cap and gown could have opened a can of worms for future graduation ceremonies, he said.


"Any time you set a precedent, it does become a line of, ‘You set this, and now where does it end?'" Garrow said. "It enters into equity issues."


By the same token, students who graduate early and start work on a special trade degree might want to wear their professional work uniforms to commencement.


"You said yes to the military, so who do you say no to? Once you go down the slippery slope, where does it stop?" he said.


The Gazette asked several area school districts if they had a policy on graduation dress code. Two districts responded, both indicating they had no set policy.


Janesville School District spokesman Brett Berg and Whitewater High School Principal Doug Parker said their districts have no written rules, but they discourage jeans, sandals and other "casual" items of clothing at graduation.



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