After the student sued the school district, a federal judge decided on Friday that the student can’t wear a sash with the Mexican and American flags to her high school graduation this weekend.
Judge Nina Y. Wang wrote that wearing a sash at a graduation event is not the student’s private speech, but a school-sponsored speech. So, Wang wrote, “the School District is free to limit that speech in any way it thinks is best for the kind of graduation it wants to have.”
The student had asked for a temporary protection order, which would have let her wear the sash to graduation on Saturday since the case wouldn’t have been finished in time. Wang said that the girl and her lawyers didn’t do enough to show that they were likely to win, but a final decision hasn’t been made yet.
It’s the latest argument in the U.S. about what kinds of cultural graduation clothes can be worn at ceremonies, with a lot of people focusing on tribe regalia.
Naomi Pea Villasano’s lawyers said at a hearing in Denver on Friday that the school district’s decision hurts her right to free speech. They also said that it was unfair for the district to let Pea Villasano wear a sash that showed her background but not Native American clothing. On one side of the sash is the Mexican flag, and on the other side is the American flag.
The tweet below verifies the news:
A federal judge is weighing whether to let a Colorado high school student wear a Mexican and American flag sash at her graduation this weekend after the student sued the school district. https://t.co/kVYqQwbCiN
— ABC News (@ABC) May 27, 2023
“I’m a 200 percenter—100% American and 100% Mexican,” she said at a recent school board meeting in the rural Western Slope of Colorado.
At Friday’s hearing, her lawyer Kenneth Parreno from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said, “The district is making it hard for people to show their different cultural backgrounds.”
An attorney for the Garfield County School District 16 said that wearing Native American regalia is needed to be allowed in Colorado and is completely different from wearing a country’s flag. Holly Ortiz said that letting Pea Villasano wear the U.S. and Mexican flags as a sash could open “the door to offensive material.”
Ortiz also said that the district doesn’t want to stop Pea Villasano from expressing herself and that the graduate could put the flags on her cap or wear the sash before or after the ceremony.
But Ortiz said, “She doesn’t have the right to say it however she wants.”
Wang agreed with the district, saying that “the School District could freely allow one sash and not allow another.”
There have been fights like this all over the U.S. this graduation season.
A transgender girl sued her school district in Mississippi because they wouldn’t let her wear a dress to her graduation. In Oklahoma, a Native American student who graduated in 2022 sued her school system because they took a sacred religious feather off her cap before the ceremony.
Native American students all over the country have had different ideas about what they should wear to graduation. Thursday, laws were passed in Nevada and Oklahoma that let Native American students wear religious and traditional regalia to their graduation ceremonies.
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This year, Colorado made it illegal to stop Native American kids from wearing these kinds of regalia. Almost a dozen states have rules that are the same.
The legal arguments often come down to whether the First Amendment protects personal expression, like the sash, or if it would be considered school-sponsored speech and could be limited for educational reasons.
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