Giving Student Government a Whole New Meaning

Whether your name is “Fabián” or “François,” our high-tech devices can easily add the accents, cedillas and umlauts to make the names complete.

But one place you won’t find them?

A California birth certificate.

“It’s kind of silly,” says Piedmont High School senior Cicely Rhodin. “Why would we have a law like this - especially in a place like California where there are so many different kinds of people?”

Cicely learned about the missing marks and decided to make them the topic of her senior government project.

“Those things are necessary for pronunciation and it’s basically spelling a name wrong if you don’t have them on someone’s name,” she says.

Cicely’s government teacher, Dave Keller, had issued a challenge to his students: come up with ideas for bills and he’d submit them to a local lawmaker to see if they could be good enough to become law.

“I was looking for ways to make what students do in the classroom more ‘real world,’” says Mr. Keller.

East Bay Assemblymember Nancy Skinner turned Cicely’s idea into Assembly Bill 2528.

“Actually, there were other ideas that we were intrigued by, but this one just rose to the top,” says Skinner.

If it passes, AB 2528 would allow accents, umlauts and other markings on birth certificates, marriage licenses and driver’s licenses too.

“I was very surprised,” says Cicely.

It was an exciting development for a student who herself wouldn’t benefit from a change in the law.

“I don’t have any marks on my name,” explains Cicely. “But a lot of people don’t say my name right.”

Cicely has a Swedish and Filipino background. And now she can say a civics background too.

“This project is a really great way to have students end their senior careers on a high note, and prepares them to participate in our society, our government,” says Mr. Keller.

He won a national teaching award for his lesson about bill writing.

AB 2528 is now in the Appropriations Committee in the Assembly, where it’s been given a price tag of $20 million. And while not everyone may agree with the cost, or the politics of the bill for that matter, for her part Cicely says she thinks it’s well worth it.

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