Mon, 25 Sep 2023

Judge rules against student, says school can ban clothing

Robert Besser
31 May 2023, 05:10 GMT+10

DENVER, COLORADO: A federal judge has ruled that a rural Colorado school district can ban a high school student from wearing a Mexican and American flag sash at her graduation this weekend.

The ruling comes after student Naomi Pena Villasano, who is of both Mexican and American descent, sued the school district for preventing her from wearing the sash.

"Wearing a sash during a graduation ceremony falls under school-sponsored speech, not the student's private speech. Therefore, the School District is permitted to restrict that speech as it sees fit in the interest of the kind of graduation it would like to hold," wrote Judge Nina Y. Wang.

The case, the latest in the US concerning cultural graduation attire allowed at commencement ceremonies, with many involving tribal regalia.

In the hearing in Denver, Pena Villasano's lawyers argued that the school district's decision violates her free speech rights, and it was inconsistent for the district to allow Native American attire but not Pena Villasano's sash representing her heritage, which has the Mexican flag on one side and the US flag on the other.

"I'm a 200 percenter - 100 percentage American and 100 percentage Mexican," Pena Villasano said at a recent school board meeting in Colorado's rural Western Slope.

In response, Holly Ortiz, attorney representing the Garfield County School District 16, stressed that Native American regalia is required to be allowed in Colorado and is categorically different from wearing a country's flags.

Ortiz further stated that the district does not want to prevent Pena Villasano from expressing herself, and the graduate could adorn her cap with the flags or wear the sash before or after the ceremony.

Siding with the district, Wang said that "the School District could freely permit one sash and prohibit another."

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