An elementary school girl made a red, white and blue bead necklace to wear in honor of her uncle, who is serving in Iraq. Apparently, this constitutes “gang attire”.

Raven, 12, made the necklace over the Christmas vacation and wore it on her first day back to school on Jan. 4. She said it was to commemorate Barnes’ [her uncle] move into a danger zone and that it is her way of trying to protect him.

Schenectady school officials immediately banned her from displaying her unique neckwear in a belief such “gang-related” jewelry violates policy, court papers alleged.

Raven was threatened with suspension if she continued to wear the beads.

Bob Keach, a lawyer who specializes in civil and constitutional rights violations cases, said several of Raven’s friends also have been told not to wear the beads even though the Mont Pleasant dress code does not mention beaded jewelry as a banned item.

And the mascot for the Schenectady City School District is a patriot, he pointed out: “So school colors are red, white and blue.”

Classic. The school colors are red, white, and blue. Does that mean the school advocates gang violence? How is that any stupider than not allowing a child to wear a necklace with those same colors?

The school board responds with a statement that includes this:

Early last year, police advised us that youth gangs were wearing colored beads as identifiers and to code messages. Police and gang specialists recommended we ban the display of colored beads in our secondary schools, so we did. We do not believe that the law allows us to enforce this policy subjectively and decide some colors are good and others not. While we understand that a student wore red, white and blue beads to support her relatives in Iraq, we also understand that the law does not permit selective enforcement. We can’t simply exempt well-meaning children from school rules while enforcing them with others.

We further understand that patriotic gestures – flying U.S. flags, wearing lapel pins, or posting yellow ribbons – do help others to remember the men and women who sacrifice while serving overseas. Our children are not only permitted but, in fact, encouraged to do all of these things. This student simply decided to choose one of the very few forms of expressing patriotism that goes against our carefully considered rules.

I personally support the troops and, just as importantly, I support their mission against terror in Iraq and in the world. As long as I have anything to say about it, such sentiments will never be suppressed in our schools. However, I cannot support children imitating the criminals that are in gangs, so we have to strike a balance.

This is stupid. Is that how the board views this girl’s actions? “Imitating the criminals that are in gangs”? She’s not imitating them. She wearing a patriotic necklace. Everybody knows that. School rules include a lot of leeway in determining whether or not the rule is violated. The Schenectady District’s Student Code of Discipline includes the following under “Dress Code” (emphasis in italics mine):

1. Students’ dress, grooming and appearance, including hair style/color, jewelry, make-up and nails will be safe, appropriate and not disrupt or interfere with the educational process.

4. Student will wear appropriate footwear at all times. Footwear that is a safety hazard will not be allowed, which includes but is not limited to steel tip boots, slippers, and heels of an unsafe height.

8. Students will not wear any clothing deemed to be gang related, included but not limited to bandanas, colors or flags.

It also includes this rule, which I mention here just because it’s weird:

9. Students will not wear coats inside during the school day.

What’s that about? Kids can’t wear a coat if they’re cold?

Now surely with words like “appropriate” and “deemed” in those rules, there is room for staff interpretation about whether an item of clothing violates the rule or not. For Raven to be punished for wearing a “gang related” item, somebody had to “deem” that necklace to be indicative of her involvement in a gang, or an attempt to communicate in gang code, in spite of 1) being told otherwise by her and her mother, and 2) common sense.

These school officials are all basically saying, “My hands are tied — rules are rules”. Well then change the fucking rules. This isn’t about applying rules fairly to everyone. Honestly I’m not sure exactly what it’s about, but that’s not it.

I want to know who the first school staffer was who saw that necklace and thought, “She shouldn’t be allowed to wear that.” What kind of bitter, humorless, uptight person do you have to be to have a thought like that and actually follow through on it? What does it mean that no one else in the district staff stood up and said, “This is dumb”?

I’m also irked by the line, “We do not believe that the law allows us to enforce this policy subjectively”. The law? What law? School district regulations are not laws. They are not subject to the same standard of analysis or enforcement. I’ve been reading more and more stories like this, where the word “law” is used to refer to a policy or a rule. People need to knock it off and get a grip on reality.

4 Responses to “Girl Threatened With Suspension For Wearing Red, White & Blue Beads”
  1. A Richardson says:

    C’mon… you guys are falling prey to the worst journalism out there, and you’re not even trying to figure this out. Don’t give in to the temptation to let a news article charge you up emotionally. Journalists nowadays are lazy. They don’t do their homework. Do a little research on your own. Even the article you cite didn’t bother to look into it, but a 10-second Google search shows that wearing colored beads as a necklace is a primary form of gang identification, and, even worse, depending on how the beads are arranged, can send secret signals (i.e., your gang rank, whether you’ve killed someone, if you’re moving up in the ranks, etc.) If the girl had decided to make a necklace from something else or made a bracelet of beads, then it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but she had to pick the one combination that echoes gang behavior which is forbidden by the school… and for good reason. Yeah, the school colors may be red, white and blue, but they aren’t issuing those colors in bead necklaces. Got it? That’s the point. It’s not the colors necessarily, but the way they are being displayed.

    And yes, their dress code does specify this. The lazy journalist even cited it in his article, but failed to follow this lead. “Students will not wear any clothing deemed to be gang-related, including, but not limited to, bandannas, colors or flags.” The beaded necklace is a type of “flag,” or a way of secretly sending information to others. (Also note the “but not limited to” bit.)

    When you know that tidbit of info, this whole story shifts into another angle that you previously might not have considered. Don’t you agree? Now, doesn’t that make you angry at the lazy journalism that you’ve just fallen prey to?

  2. A Richardson says:

    You wonder why this rule is weird?

    “9. Students will not wear coats inside during the school day.”

    Hiding guns and weapons. It’s easier to do with a coat on.

    Not such a weird sounding rule now, is it?

  3. Rainne says:

    Under a coat you can hide any type of weapon. The Klebold boy from Columbine and his friend hid their rifles and shotguns under trench coats until they started shooting.

    Regarding beads:

    It is absolutely wrong and unfair to say that this child may wear her beads because she SAYS they are for this reason, but this other child cannot wear beads because they are for this other reason. How do we know that the child who SAYS one thing is telling the truth? Children lie. It is the nature of children.

    A violation of the rules with good intentions is still a violation, and trust me when I say that this child knew she was violating the rules. Kids in schools often know what is forbidden before the staff does, and will go to remarkable lengths to bend or break those rules, just to see what happens.

  4. Rainne says:

    “This isn’t about applying rules fairly to everyone. Honestly I’m not sure exactly what it’s about, but that’s not it.”

    No, it’s not. This article is about one child and parent or set of parents who thinks that for whatever reason, THIS child is special and should be exempt from the rules.

    Of course, once you exempt one child from one rule, you have to look at every other rule and see which children are exempt from those. Before long, there’s no point in having rules any more, because everyone is exempt from them.

    Webster’s defines that point as anarchy.

    Quite frankly, the district official was right. Rules are rules, and must be followed, or society as a whole collapses under the weight of exceptions.

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