The mother of a Colorado middle schooler who was reportedly kicked out of class for displaying several patches on his backpack, including one of a Gadsden flag, claims that his First Amendment rights were violated.
The 12-year-old Vanguard School student, Jaiden Rodriguez, was ordered to remove the flag — which features a coiled rattlesnake and the phrase “Don’t tread on me” – before he was allowed back inside.
“I do want him to stand up for his rights, too, and I don’t want to say, ‘No, you bow down to the government,’”Jaiden’s mom Eden Rodriguez told News5.
“It’s been a tough call to just let him do what he wants and say he’s at that age to make his own decisions.”
By making him miss three days of school over his patches, the charter school violated the seventh-grader’s First Amendment right, his mom said.
Steven Zansberg, an attorney who specializes in First Amendment cases, told the outlet that “students do not leave their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door.
“That’s what the US Supreme Court has said, and so that’s the test that must be met. It has to be a significant disruption to the educational mission of the school in order for the school to regulate the student’s speech,” said Zansberg, who is not representing the family.
“And I’m deeply skeptical that that’s true here,” he added.
A school administrator told Rodriguez that her son could not display the patch because of the flag’s “origins with slavery and the slave trade,” video of a meeting between them shows.
The mom argued the Gadsden flag’s origins can actually be traced to the Revolutionary War and not slavery – but the school also claimed the seventh-grader violated dress code policy with other patches, including some displaying firearms.
Rodriguez praised her son for standing up for his beliefs and protecting his rights.
“I’m proud that he just chose the hard route,” she said of the “very stressful” experience.
The Vanguard School cited the national media coverage of the story in a statement but noted that “the story is incomplete.”
“The patch in question was part of half a dozen other patches of semi-automatic weapons. The student has removed the semi-automatic patches,” it said.
“As a school district, we will continue to ensure all students and employees can learn and work in a safe and nurturing environment. The student returned to class without incident after removing the patches of semi-automatic weapons from the backpack,” the school added.
The school’s board of directors called an emergency meeting and reportedly also walked back its demands that Jaiden remove the patch with the flag.
Democratic Gov. Jared Polis defended Jaiden.
“The Gadsden flag is a proud symbol of the American revolution and an iconic warning to Britain or any government not to violate the liberties of Americans,” Polis tweeted in response to the video.
“It appears on popular American medallions and challenge coins through today and Ben Franklin also adopted it to symbolize the union of the 13 colonies. It’s a great teaching moment for a history lesson!” he added.
The flag was first used by the country’s first naval commander-in-chief as a personal ensign during the American Revolution, according to Britannica.
It has been adopted by the conservative Tea Party movement and has become increasingly associated with right-wing politics.
In 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that the flag itself is not a racist symbol but is “sometimes interpreted to convey racially tinged messages in some contexts” while investigating a US Postal Service employee complaint about a co-worker wearing a hat with the flag.