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Judge rules student can’t wear sash with Mexican and US flag at high school graduation

Judge rules student can’t wear sash with Mexican and US flag at high school graduation

Naomi Peña Villasano was blocked from wearing a sash with a US and Mexican flag but wore it anyway

A judge ruled that a student could not wear a sash decorated with Mexican and US flags to her graduation, but she ended up doing it anyway.

Grand Valley High School senior Naomi Peña Villasano from Parachute, Colorado, had claimed her first amendment right to free speech was being denied after her school district refused to let her wear a sash to her graduation that reflected her cultural identity.

Garfield County School District 16 superintendent Jennifer Baugh told the 18-year-old that if they allowed her to wear the sash she’d chosen, it could open the door to other students decorating their gowns with Confederate flags.

Baugh wrote in an email to Villasano seen by the Denver Post: “Then another student would be able to wear a Confederate flag because that student was from a Southern state.

“To some people, the Confederate flag symbolizes much more than just the Confederacy at the time of the Civil War.

“If people get offended, we would not be able to tell that student that he/she couldn’t wear that pin because we cannot discriminate against that student, regardless of whether or not we agree or disagree with the symbolism.”

Naomi Peña Villasano was told she couldn't wear a sash with the US and Mexican flag.
Naomi Peña Villasano

Villasano took her case to court and her lawyers applied for a temporary restraining order so she could wear the sash on her May 27 graduation while the case was still being considered.

However, Judge Nina Y. Wang denied the motion.

She said that a student’s choice of regalia on the graduation gowns sends the message the school approves of the sentiments expressed so ‘qualifies as school-sponsored speech’.

She also noted that Villasano could wear the design on her graduation cap according to the school’s policy, just not as a sash.

Nevertheless, Villasano was not to be deterred.

During the ceremony yesterday, she whipped out the sash from under her graduation robes when it was her turn to walk onto the stage and wore it to receive her diploma.

Villisano wore the sash anyway.
Evan Semón/Voces Unidas

There were fears she wouldn’t be allowed to graduate after she flouted the court’s ruling, but thankfully the graduation ceremony went ahead as planned.

She was supported by Latino rights organization Voces Unida, and their executive director Alex Sanchez said: “We are pleased the school district did the right thing and did not keep a student from graduating.”

So it all turned out for the best in the end, although other students felt Villasano had stolen their thunder.

Graduate Tiara Walker told the Colorado Sun: “I think it’s unfair that she can sit there and make a huge scene that affects everyone else. It was very disappointing to me.”

She added that her boyfriend’s family had given her a fresh-flower lei to wear for the ceremony, but because the district had toughened up rules recently she hadn’t been allowed to wear it.

UNILAD has contacted Grand Valley High School for comment.

Featured Image Credit: Gregg Vignal / Alamy/ Evan Semón, Voces Unidas

Topics: US News, School, Education