Jaiden Rodriguez reacting with bemused
disbelief by the ignorance of the school
official behind him. Click to watch the video
In August 2023 the Vanguard School in Colorado Springs demanded that 12-year-old Jaiden Rodriguez remove patches on his daypack showing the Gadsden flag as well as some funny Pac-men holding guns or he would be banned from classes. Jaiden refused, and the resulting uproar — forcing the cancellation of a scheduled parents night — caused school officials to quickly back down and give Jaiden permission to attend classes with the daypack and Gadsden flag patch.
For the school the most embarassing part of the story was how it illustrated the total ignorance of school officials about American history as well as the First Amendment. School officials, who are supposed to teach history to their students, knew less about American history than Jaiden. They falsely claimed that the Gadsen flag had “its origins in slavery and the slave trade,” when it was actually created during the American Revolution as a symbol against tyranny. In addition, they ignorantly claimed they had the right to censor Jaiden, simply because his patches “might” offend some students, when the Supreme Court has consistently ruled for more than a half century that they did not have that right.
The uproar caused the school’s board of directors to issue a retraction, though they did not waive the ban on the armed Pac-men patches. Moreover:
The school says that the ban on Jaiden’s display of the Gadsden flag patch has been temporarily lifted. However, education bureaucrats have threatened to ban it again as soon as anyone, including school officials, “complains,” which is virtually certain to happen as soon as this matter fades from the headlines. On top of the humiliating lecture Jaiden endured when he was first told not to wear the patch, this warning that the district may re-enforce the policy is nothing short of a threat to curtail his speech once more. And, despite backtracking (temporarily) on the Gadsden Flag ban under the hot glare of public attention, the school has never lifted its ban on Jaiden’s display of his pro-gun-rights patches. [emphasis mine]
As a result, the non-profit Mountain States Legal Foundation has now sued the Vanguard School in Jaiden’s behalf. You can read their complaint here [pdf].
Maybe the worst part of the school’s behavior, however, is how officials have also looked the other way when other students began harassing him. From the complaint:
Following Defendants’ misconduct and the subsequent media exposure, other students at The Vanguard School have verbally and physically harassed J.R. [Jaiden Rodriguez]. On information and belief, these students have interpreted the actions of Defendants as a license to mistreat J.R. These students have also expressed that they are upset with J.R., not because of the messages displayed on his backpack, but because of the negative public reaction to Defendants’ own misconduct in banning J.R.’s exercise of his free speech rights.
These students’ ire is inappropriately aimed at J.R., rather than at Defendants. Had Defendants respected J.R.’s First Amendment right to display the patches at issue—which they had done without incident for the prior two years—there would have been no controversy and no harassment of J.R.
Defendants have compounded their misconduct by failing to intervene to address other students’ harassment and intimidation of J.R., despite being informed of these incidents and having the opportunity and authority to do so. J.R. has also reported to school officials that other students have stolen his patches, including the Gadsden Flag patch shown in the viral video, from his backpack during school hours. Defendants, however, have failed to investigate or intervene to prevent or redress this misconduct. [emphasis mine]
The suit also notes that while the Vanguard School’s board of directors stated in their press release that they were in contact with the family, no such contact was ever made by anyone from the school.
Jaiden Rodriguez and his daypack
The boy was essentially left exposed to abuse, with the apparent silent approval of school officials.
The suit specifically names five school employees, as each at some point participated in this harassment and denial of Jaiden Rodriguez’s first amendment rights. The suit demands an end to this harassment, a clearing of the boy’s school record, and “compensatory education and tutorial services for instructional hours missed due to the Defendants’ constitutional violations.” It also demands compensatory and punitive damages.
The hero in this story however continues to be Jaiden Rodriguez. As I said, he knows more about American history and the law and the importance of liberty than his teachers. More important, he has been willing to take abuse for doing what is right. He understands the meaning of freedom. You can’t be free if you don’t have the courage to defend it.
Jaiden has that courage. With more kids like him, the future can be very bright indeed.