NewsCovering Colorado


Colorado Springs 12-year-old did not back down from wearing symbolic 'Don't Tread on Me' patch to school

Mom says son kicked out of class over Gadsden Flag patch
Posted at 6:46 PM, Aug 29, 2023

COLORADO SPRINGS — A Colorado Springs school district is responding to a situation that quickly went viral on Tuesday. Jaiden Rodriguez, a seventh grader at The Vanguard School 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 include 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.”

Posts on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, went viral and included a video of a meeting with school administrators and Eden Rodriguez, the boy’s mother. Rodriguez said she shared the video to bring awareness to the issue.

The mother told News5 that her son was told he had to remove all of the patches on his backpack or not come back to class. In the recording of the conversation with school administrators, the mother and son were told, "We do not want the flag is to due to its origins with slavery and slave trade."

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

Don't Tread on Me Patch
Eden Rodriguez says her son was kicked out of class at D2's Vanguard charter school due to patches on his backpack.

"I was like this is wild that this is happening, is this America," asked Rodriguez. “I do want him to stand up for his rights and (not) say ‘bow down to the government, it's been a tough call to just let him do what he wants and say he's at that age to make his own decisions."

The Vanguard School is a charter school in Colorado Springs under Harrison School District 2. While charter schools in Colorado are tuition-free and receive public funds, they have more freedom in how they teach the state-required curriculum and are allowed to create their own school policies.

Rodriguez says her son was told he was violating the school dress code policy, and he missed three days of school.

On August 29th Harrison School District Two sent this 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.”

In a statement to students and families on Tuesday, The Vanguard School Board of Directors said:

"Dear Vanguard Families,

Last week, a student came to school with patches affixed to his backpack, with a half dozen patches depicting guns/weapons and one referencing alcohol. Upon review by the district, they pointed out that in addition to these patches the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag patch, also known as the Gadsden flag, needed to be removed in accordance with Harrison School District 2's policy. Vanguard administration consulted with District administrators, who directed the school to inform the student’s parents that the patch was not allowed at District schools. Vanguard administrators did so.

Yesterday the student returned with the patch still visible on his backpack. Following the District’s direction, Vanguard administrators pulled the student aside so that they could speak with his parents and the District.

Upon learning of these events today, The Vanguard School Board of Directors called an emergency meeting. From Vanguard’s founding, we have proudly supported our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the ordered liberty that all Americans have enjoyed for almost 250 years. The Vanguard School recognizes the historical significance of the Gadsden flag and its place in history. This incident is an occasion for us to reaffirm our deep commitment to a classical education in support of these American principles.

At this time, the Vanguard School Board and the District have informed the student’s family that he may attend school with the Gadsden flag patch visible on his backpack.

The Vanguard School Board of Directors
Matt Hughes
Rene' Chatham
Tracy Coons
Eric Koppisch
Kurt Peters"

Rodriguez said she believes her son’s First Amendment Rights were violated. We spoke with an attorney who specializes in First Amendment cases.

“Students do not leave their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door. That's what the US Supreme Court has said. And so that's the test that must be met, it has to be a significant disruption to the educational mission of the school in order for the school to regulate the student's speech. And I'm deeply skeptical that that's true here,” Steve Zansberg said. He is not representing the family and no formal lawsuit has been filed.

Rodriguez said she is proud of her son for standing up for his beliefs.

“I'm proud that he just chose the hard route, we didn't know it would pay off we didn't know that he wouldn't get kicked out today, it was very stressful,” Rodriguez said.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis also shared remarks about the controversy today, “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 joined the conversation on X, sending a response that reads in part: “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.”

Gadsden flag
Ryan Olski yells and bangs on a pot in front of a Gadsden flag while a group protests before the signing of firearms regulation bills by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Tuesday, April 25, 2023, outside the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

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.

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