Western Slope student will sue school district that denied her request to wear a sash with the US and Mexican flags to graduation

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Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
The sash that Grand Valley High School senior Naomi Peña was told she could not wear at her graduation ceremony, worn while she’s recognized by Colorado’s House of Representatives. May 5, 2023.

A Western Slope student set to graduate this weekend is suing Garfield County School District 16 for refusing her request to wear a sash featuring the flags of both the United States and Mexico.

Naomi Peña Villasano, 18, has for weeks lobbied school officials to allow her to wear the sash that was given to her by one of her brothers. School officials denied the request, citing graduation attire policies that limit personal expression to decorations on the mortar boards of graduates’ caps. 

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. The filing claims that by not allowing Peña Villasano to wear the sash, the school district was violating her First and 14th Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. The case says the policy not only violates Peña Villasano’s freedom of speech rights under federal law, but also the Colorado State Constitution. 

In a third count, the lawsuit points to a 2006 Colorado statute that guarantees school district employees and students the right to “display reasonably the flag of the United States.”

“By prohibiting Naomi from wearing her sash, which depicts the American flag as well as the Mexican flag, the District has violated Colorado’s law guaranteeing the right of students to display the American flag,” the lawsuit reads. 

The suit calls on the District Court to declare the rule a violation of the right to Peña Villasano’s freedom of speech and to order that she may wear the sash at Saturday’s ceremony. 

At a school board meeting earlier this month, Board President Lynn Shore said the district would review its policies in light of the concerns raised, but that review would take place after this year’s ceremony. 

The district has said it will not comment any further on the issue. Brent Case, an attorney for the school district, declined to comment Thursday.