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  • Writer's pictureVoces Unidas de las Montañas

Garfield 16 School District must allow students to recognize cultural heritage at graduation

Let’s make this clear right up front: Attempting to compare the flag of Mexico (a nation) to a Confederate or Nazi flag (acknowledged symbols of hate and oppression) is outright offensive. Potentially banning a top student from graduation at Grand Valley High School because she wants to wear a sash, reflecting her Mexican-American heritage with the flags of both nations is simply unacceptable.

With graduation approaching, GVHS senior Naomi Pena Villasano faces both scenarios as Garfield 16 Superintendent Jennifer Baugh recently told her that wearing the sash adorned with the flag of Mexico is forbidden. The superintendent told Villasano via email that allowing her to wear the sash around her neck might lead to other students deciding to wear a Confederate flag and the district “cannot discriminate against that student, regardless of whether or not we agree or disagree with them.”

While it should be obvious to all – and especially to those responsible for educating our students – that the comparison is appalling, the question of whether or not to allow students to demonstrate national pride on graduation day really boils down to common sense. And it shouldn’t make any difference if that pride is for one nation or two.

We call on the school district to allow students to wear cultural graduation regalia as it promotes belonging and community. Our nationalities, our race, our ethnicity and our cultural heritage are points of pride and celebration, and public institutions like a school district should create welcoming environments for all students. Students should not be afraid to express their cultural heritage.

Nothing in school policy explicitly restricts students from wearing sashes or stoles during their graduation ceremony, however, Villasano has been told not to wear her multicultural sash until after receiving her diploma. We strongly disagree with this directive and urge the school district to recognize the value in creating policy that enables students to demonstrate national pride, simultaneously differentiating it from offensive displays of hate.

Villasano has posted an online petition to this effect, already attracting nearly 2,000 signatures. We encourage you to include your name as well.

Superintendent Baugh has suggested that it will take at least three months to develop a policy allowing Villasano or other students to display pride in their cultural heritage at graduation (which is only one month away), however, we don’t believe that’s necessary for such a common-sense solution.

The next Garfield 16 School District Board of Directors meeting is slated for 5-7 p.m. on May 16. The meeting occurs at the Garfield County School District 16 Administration office at 460 Stone Quarry Road in Parachute.

If you support Latino students, we invite you to attend and express your opinion through public comment.

Contact Alan Muñoz Valenciano at for more information.

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