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Student's Gadsden flag patch prompts racism debate

A Colorado boy was pulled from class after school officials claimed the Gadsden flag had ties to slavery.
Student's Gadsden flag patch prompts racism debate
Posted at 3:10 PM, Aug 30, 2023

A seventh grader at The Vanguard School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was removed from class, according to his mom, after administrators said several patches on his backpack were in violation of the school’s dress code policy. 

The patches included the Gadsden Flag, which was designed during the American Revolutionary War and features a rattlesnake on a yellow background with the phrase, “Don’t Tread On Me.” 

The mother of the boy, Eden Rodriguez, posted a video of her meeting with a school administrator who said she was upholding a district policy because it was determined that the flag has ties to slavery.

"They didn't want racism on school campus and I told them that was very subjective," said Eden Rodriguez

The Vanguard School is a charter school and is allowed to create its own school policies.

Rodriguez says her son was told he was violating the school dress code policy, and he missed three days of school for refusing to remove the patch from his backpack. 

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On Aug. 29, The Vanguard School sent Scripps News the following statement:

“There has been National media attention on our charter school, The Vanguard School, related to a student having the Gadsden flag on his backpack. Unfortunately, this 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. 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 Vanguard School and Harrison School District 2 worked in collaboration to resolve this matter.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, Democrat, joined the discourse on X, praising the student for standing up for himself. 

“I think it's great when kids express themselves in different ways as long as they're not creating a disruptive environment, certainly the Gadsden flag is a great iconic American flag, other kids have LGBT flags, others have flags of major political parties", he said. 

Third Congressional District Representative Lauren Boebert, a Republican, also showed support for the boy. 

“The Gadsden Flag has been flown since 1775 and is a symbol of the American Revolution. This is a direct attack on his freedom of speech," she said.

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According to Britannica, the Gadsden Flag’s origins go back to 1775. It was first used by Commodore Esek Hopkins, the first U.S. Naval Commander in Chief. Britannica goes on to explain that the rattlesnake symbol was a popular symbol of unity for the American colonies during that time.

Then, around 2009, according to Britannica, some people started to associate it with racism because of its use by some members of the Tea Party Movement.

In 2014, a Black mechanic with the U.S. Postal Service filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint over a co-worker wearing a hat with the flag’s design. The EEOC ultimately ruled that the design, although not a racist symbol, is “sometimes interpreted to convey racially-tinged messages in some contexts.” Because of that ruling, according to Britannica, investigations can be launched when complaints are filed per the Civil Rights Act.

This story was originally reported by Lindsey Jensen and Jackie Alcon at Scripps News Colorado Springs.

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