It happened last month in St. Louis, and is still sparking debate:
Rodrigo Avila, 16, was punished for wearing rosary beads to school, his family said. He returned to school Feb. 25. His mother said Sunday that his use of the rosary beads was religious.
Law enforcement officials nationwide have linked wearing rosary beads to gang activity.
Superintendent Dennis Craft declined to comment Monday on the situation or on any disciplinary actions, citing confidentiality laws regarding students.
A Collinsville High School student handbook devotes a half-page to “prohibiting gang activity.” Though it does not mention rosary beads or any other items specifically, the school bans “any clothing, jewelry, emblem, badge, symbol, sign, or other things that are evidence of membership or affiliation in any gang.” Punishments for a first offense vary, but they include suspension for a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10 days, the handbook says.
Craft said the anti-gang section was put into the handbook about five years ago. When asked if gangs are an issue in the school he said, “I think every large high school has issues such as this.”
Rodrigo’s mother, Julia Avila, of Fairmont City, said the boy’s godfather had given the beads to him last year for his Confirmation. She said her family was religious, attending Mass nearly every Sunday at Holy Rosary Catholic Church.
But she also said that she did not know why her son had chosen to wear them to school again after having been warned in October that he would face suspension if he broke the rule a second time.
“He wears it just out of the blue, I guess,” she said.
She said she thought the five-day suspension was excessive. She also thinks that they are being unfairly treated, and that other students are upset.