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  • Writer's pictureVoces Unidas de las Montañas

Voces Unidas to Garfield 16 School Board: Read the Room

More than 20 local community members, including many soon-to-be graduates of Grand Valley High School in Parachute, joined resolute senior Naomi Peña Villasano on Tuesday to testify to the Garfield 16 School Board in support of First Amendment rights to wear cultural regalia reflecting her heritage as a Mexican and American at her forthcoming graduation ceremony.

You can count us among them.

Voces Unidas continues to stand with Naomi and support her efforts to wear a sash, or ceremonial stole, adorned with both the Mexican and American flags around her neck as she receives her diploma. And we are hardly alone. A petition circulated by Naomi on already has gathered nearly 7,000 signatures, and a letter campaign we initiated last week resulted in more than 300 email messages sent to the school board, superintendent and principal.

A pair of editorials in the Grand Junction Sentinel and the Glenwood Post Independent call on the school board to do the right thing and adopt a policy allowing students to express their cultural heritage. Lawmakers at the state Capitol have pledged bi-partisan support for amending state law to allow such displays in the next legislative session. Even Gov. Jared Polis weighed in with a statement clarifying that all students have a First Amendment right to express pride in their cultural heritage at a graduation ceremony.

Yet, despite the groundswell of support, the school district refuses to budge. School officials still threaten to prevent Naomi from walking with her graduating class if she wears her stole, creating a standoff with potential legal implications surrounding the commencement ceremony on May 27.

Voces Unidas will support Naomi with anything she needs to defend herself and ensure that her rights are honored. However, it is clear to us that this issue needs to be legislated. We plan to work with Rep. Elizabeth Velasco and other lawmakers to pass legislation in the next session allowing all students to exercise their First Amendment right to celebrate their race, ethnicity or heritage at a graduation ceremony.


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