Grand Valley senior files lawsuit against Garfield District 16 over sash ban |

Grand Valley senior files lawsuit against Garfield District 16 over sash ban

Grand Valley senior Naomi Peña Villasano, middle, outside of the Garfield 16 Administration building last week.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Grand Valley High School senior Naomi Peña Villasano has filed a lawsuit against the Garfield County School District 16 over her not being allowed to wear a sash celebrating her cultural heritage, the advocacy group Voces Unidas said in a Thursday statement.

Filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court Court in Denver, the lawsuit alleges Garfield 16 is violating Peña Villasano’s First Amendment rights by not letting her wear a Mexican/U.S. sash during graduation on Saturday.

Alex Sanchez, president of Voces Unidas, said in a statement that Garfield 16 and Grand Valley High School cannot prevent Peña Villasano from graduating while wearing a multicultural stole this Saturday.

“Although we are disappointed that it has come to this, we are 100% behind Naomi and her legal efforts to prevent Garfield County School District 16 from trampling on her First Amendment right to celebrate her cultural heritage at this weekend’s Grand Valley High School commencement ceremony,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez added, “This court filing by a Latina high school student on the eve of her own high school graduation is further evidence of the need to pass legislation clarifying that all students have the right to wear cultural regalia at any public graduation ceremony.”

Garfield 16 first came under scrutiny in late April when Peña Villasano was told she would be prevented from participating in the school’s graduation ceremony if she decided to wear the sash.

In a follow-up email sent from Superintendent Jennifer Baugh to Peña Villasano, Baugh said allowing her to wear the sash would go against many school traditions. Baugh also said allowing Peña Villasano to wear the sash could lead to other students possibly wearing Confederate flags for graduation.

Joined by many friends and family, Peña Villasano last week went before the Garfield 16 school board, pleading for the district to allow her to wear the sash. On Cinco de Mayo, Peña Villasano and state Rep. Elizabeth Velasco also met with elected officials and Gov. Jared Polis to call for legislative action to allow graduating youth to wear cultural regalia celebrating their race, ethnicity and cultural heritage.

“Voces Unidas has already begun working with state lawmakers to pass such legislation in 2024, including creating an online petition that we encourage anyone who believes in the First Amendment to sign,” Sanchez said. 

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