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A scene from the Helena High graduation ceremony in June 2018.

A scene from the Helena High graduation ceremony in June 2018.

Helena High School Principal Steve Thennis announced Tuesday that the school will be moving forward with a single-color graduation gown starting this year. 

"Based on the arguments that I have heard," Thennis said, in a letter to parents, "I am moving forward with the decision to go to a single color gown."

Since 2007, boys have worn burgundy and girls have worn white graduation gowns. The color scheme changed multiple times prior to 2007, and there were several years when all students wore burgundy gowns. 

On Wednesday, students will vote in their government class on which color they would like to wear this year. Options include white, red or silver with a red stole. Thennis said students enrolled in a Montana Digital Academy government class may go to the counseling office to submit a vote. 

Thennis said his decision was based on three factors: 

  • Tradition - Thennis said the two-color gown scheme isn't traditional, as the gowns have changed several times throughout the school's history.
  • Cost - Thennis noted there would be no additional cost to any student for replacement gowns. He noted that he worked out a deal with the school's Josten's representative.
  • Timing - Thennis said while the timing could be better, it does not prevent the school administrators from making changes or decisions now.

Thennis also noted that he received a "Dear Colleague" letter from the Office of Civil Rights. That letter encouraged all districts to move away from gender-specific gown colors. 

"The move puts us in alignment with the majority of the AA and area schools," Thennis said. "The color change is what is best for all kids and ultimately harms no one."

Several Helena High seniors weighed in on Thennis' decision.

"I would like to say that it is relieving to hear that the school administration decided to do the right thing and move forward with a single gown color," said Regan Read. "However, this long drawn-out struggle could have been avoided from the get-go if the administration had listened to the people advocating a gender-neutral solution way back at the beginning of the school year and taken the safety and comfort of transgender people seriously. Helena High still has a long way to go to become the inclusive and tolerant place its administrators make it out to be."

Savanah Mook said it was "about time" the administration made a decision. She added that she believes the silver gown would be the best option.

"If he wants to change the gowns, he needs to get rid of both the red and white gowns," Mook said. 

Grace Lawlor said she thinks Thennis made the best decision in order to promote inclusivity and support equality among the genders. 

"I hope that those who oppose his decision will try to remember that graduation is not about the color of gown we wear, but about celebrating our accomplishments of the past and goals for the future," Lawlor said.

The decision to move to a single gown color was prompted by student leaders and class of 2019 seniors who approached administrators earlier this year. Superintendent Tyler Ream said, at the time, students were pushing for a single color to send the message "we are one." 

Thennis said the results will be tallied Wednesday afternoon and that students will be notified of the appropriate steps to follow. 

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Education and Business Reporter

Education and Business reporter for Helena Independent Record.

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