Latina sues a school that didn’t allow the belt with the Mexican and American flag
A Colorado high school student is suing her school district after authorities denied her request to wear a sash with an image of the American and Mexican flags at her upcoming graduation.
The district’s decision is a violation of Naomi Villasano’s constitutionally protected right to free speech, according to a lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), a Latin American civil rights organization, and the Greenberg Traurig, LLP, law firm. .
According to the lawsuit involving School District 16 in Garfield County, Grand Valley High School principal Kelly McCormick told 18-year-old Villasano that she could not wear the belt despite having acknowledged that the school, located in the town of Parachute, did not have a specific written policy regarding insignia worn on or over the graduation gown.
Garfield County School District Superintendent Jennifer Baugh went on to email Villasano and write, “The district didn’t allow flags on badges because they didn’t want to open the door to a student wearing a Confederate pin or flag that would cause offense,” the lawsuit said.
Villasano, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, argued before the school board that she was “200% – 100% American and 100% Mexican” and said in the MALDEF press release that “it is important for me to represent my culture not only for myself but for my family.”
The lawsuit claims she is being denied her right to free speech and calls on the defendants to let her wear the sash at her graduation on Saturday.
“We live in a time of increasing threats to the First Amendment in public schools,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF. “Here, the district has erroneously concluded that it is permissible to discriminate against certain students and their heritage while honoring that of other students; our Constitution does not permit such obvious discrimination.
The district superintendent, school board members and principal of Grand Valley High School are listed as defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
Responding to an email from NBC News, Superintendent Baugh said in a statement, “At this time, the District has no comment on the pending litigation.”
Villasano said she was fighting the ban in hopes of bringing about change, “not just for Latinos, but for all future graduates so no one else has to go through what I lived,” the statement said.
“A graduation is meant to be a time of celebration, but Garfield County School District 16 is robbing Naomi of the opportunity to celebrate her Mexican-American heritage during one of the most important times of her life,” said MALDEF staff attorney Kenneth Parreno said in the press release. “The United States Constitution and Colorado law protect students’ rights to express their heritage, and schools cannot choose what kinds of cultural heritage can be celebrated.”