A federal judge on Friday upheld a decision barring a student from wearing a sari to graduation honoring her Mexican American heritage after the high school senior sued her Colorado school district.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, the student’s attorney, Naomi Pena Villazano, said the principal’s secretary told her she could not wear the sari. Open many doors.
Lawyers for the 18-year-old Ms. Villazano wrote in the suit that “not all Mexican Americans, including her parents, have the opportunity to graduate from high school and pass the graduation stage.”
They added, “By wearing the sari, Naomi represents her family, her identity as a Mexican American, and her culture on this important occasion.”
The saree, designed in a seraph style, was a gift from her older brother and reflected the American and Mexican flags. It has the words “Class of 2023” embroidered on it.
In a phone call with Ms. Villazano’s brother-in-law, the principal of Grand Valley High School in Parachute, about 200 miles west of Denver, reaffirmed that Ms. Villazano would not be allowed to wear her sash to graduation. It admitted there was no written school or district policy about regalia worn on or over graduation gowns, the suit said.
Ms. Villazano’s sister-in-law later called the superintendent, who said the district, Garfield County School District 16, did not allow the flags to be displayed because “it would open the door to a student wearing a Confederate flag pin or other flag. That would cause offense,” the lawsuit said.
Ms. Villazano attended a county board meeting this month, hoping to persuade county leaders to change their position.
“I’m 200 percent — 100 percent American and 100 percent Mexican,” he said in his comments, according to the lawsuit. “I was born in America, but my parents were Mexican immigrants who came here for a better life.”
Ms. Thomas Chance, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represents Villasano, noted that the school has said it will allow other students to wear sashes celebrating their Native American or Pacific Islander heritage to graduation. He said it violates the equal protection clause of the US Constitution.
“The fact that there are so many cases like this should cause concern for all of us,” he said.
Ms. Vilasano’s lawyers argued that wearing the sari at Saturday’s graduation was private speech protected by the First Amendment that warranted court intervention.
Judge Nina Y. Wang sided with the school district at a hearing in response to an emergency petition seeking permission to wear the sari.
“While it is true that many of the pieces of regalia that complement the cap and gown are worn at the graduate’s discretion, in the context of Grand Valley High School’s graduation ceremony, such display is subject to the school district’s discretion and oversight as a matter of course,” Judge Wang wrote in his ruling.
In a statement, Ms Villazano said she was “lost for words at the outcome” and was “incredibly sad” she could not celebrate with her family the way she would have liked.
The district administration expressed its satisfaction with this result.
“This is not an issue about a student’s ability to express pride in their culture and heritage,” Superintendent Jennifer Bach said in a statement. “She and all her classmates have an outlet for this expression by adorning their mortarboards in their quality hats, including appropriate nationalistic endorsements.”
Ms Villazano’s case comes amid controversy over what constitutes freedom of speech at inauguration ceremonies.
Thursday in Oklahoma, the state legislature Overrode Kevin Stitt’s veto of A bill to allow students to wear Native American regalia At high school and college graduations.