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The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of Latino students alleging that the Nampa School District enforces discriminatory dress code and discipline policies, according to an ACLU press release issued Wednesday.
In the complaint, the ACLU of Idaho claims that the Nampa School District’s dress code policy against gang activity, which prohibits students from wearing anything that is “evidence of membership in, affiliation with any gang and/or representative of any gang,” is vague and gives school staff the discretion to ban any item they believe is gang-related.
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According to the complaint, the dress code policy results in the disproportionate discipline of Latino students based on their clothing with symbols representing their ethnicity and culture such as Catholic rosaries and La Huelga Bird logo – an Aztec eagle image used by the United Farm Workers union to symbolize Mexican-American identity.
The complaint alleges that the school district misinterprets gang clothing with Chicano-style clothing.
Chicano culture – a term used to characterize people with Mexican heritage living in the U.S. – has roots in the West Coast and along the southern border. Some items that resemble Chicano culture include bandanas, Dickies pants, high white socks, plaid shirts, among others, according to the complaint.
The complaint comes one month after the ACLU of Idaho released a report, “Proud to Be Brown: Punishing Latine Culture in Idaho Schools.” The report highlights the experiences of students in Nampa and Caldwell schools who claim their clothing was wrongly perceived as “gang-related.”
Erica Rodarte, a legal fellow at the ACLU of Idaho and the author of the “Proud to Be Brown” report, said in a press release that the Nampa School District disciplines students rather than providing defined guidelines to students wanting to express their culture.
“Formal and informal policies maintain a culture within the school district that has targeted and disproportionately disciplined multiple generations of students,” she said in the release. “Latine students are a vital part of Idaho, and they deserve a seat in a classroom where they will not be mislabeled, pushed out, or punished for who they are.”
What is the Nampa School District’s gang-prevention policy?
The Nampa School District is the third largest school district in Idaho, and approximately 40% of its students identify as Latino, according to the complaint.
Kathleen Tuck, the Nampa School District spokesperson, told the Idaho Capital Sun that the district is aware of the ACLU complaint and is awaiting advice from legal counsel, adding that the school district offers cultural training for its administrators and staff.
“The district has brought in Hispanic leaders in our community to speak to our administrators about cultural awareness,” she said in an email. “ We also require annual training on our McKinney-Vento programs that includes information about cultural sensitivity; this information also is included in our annual training on bullying provided by Vector Training – K-12 edition required for all staff members.”
In a public statement released after the “Proud to Be Brown” ACLU report, the Nampa School District said gangs have posed challenges to the district and the Nampa community in the past, and it is determined to create a district free from gang activity.
“We want to emphasize that at no point have we endorsed or supported any practices that discriminate against any of our students,” the district said. “The Nampa School District continues to strive for excellence for all students, including our Hispanic and Latinx students and families. We stand committed with our community to ensure a safer future for all.”
The district said it has a strong partnership with the Nampa Police Department, which trains and supports school staff about gang violence.
In 2020, the Nampa School District adopted a policy to prevent gang activity which addresses dress code standards and safety concerns.
The school district defines gangs as any group of three or more people with a common name or symbol meant to advocate, conspire or commit crimes, intimidate or threaten the safety or well-being of people or property.
Students who meet the definition of gangs are restricted from school grounds and activities, according to the policy.
Additionally, the Nampa School District gang-prevention policy rules that students on school property or at school events cannot:
- Wear, possess, use, distribute or sell clothing, jewelry, emblem, badge, symbol, sign or other items that are evidence of affiliation with a gang
- Display tattoos which may be affiliated with gangs
- Engage in any act, whether verbal or nonverbal, including gestures or handshakes showing affiliation with a gang
- Engage in “furthering the interest of any gang” including soliciting membership of a gang, soliciting a person to pay for protection, display graffiti with gang symbols, and engage in violence and extortion
According to the district’s enforcement policies, school administrators have the discretion to interpret dress code provisions and can deny class entrance to students dressed in what they deem inappropriate clothing.
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Complainants include Nampa parents, district employees who allege discrimination
The ACLU of Idaho filed the complaint on behalf of parents and staff in the Nampa School District who allege discriminatory treatment against their children and students.
In the legal document, the complainants use pseudonyms to protect their identity:
- A.B. is a former staff member at the Nampa School District who supported Latino students who dealt with microaggressions from staff and faced “unfair” discipline related to dress code violations
- A.C. is a staff member at the district who has supported students who were asked to conceal or remove their Catholic rosaries
- A.D. is a parent whose son faced consequences after administrators at Roosevelt Elementary School and Lone Star Middle School interpreted his clothing as “gang-related.” Their son was denied enrollment at Treasure Valley Leadership Academy and had to enroll in a charter school outside of the district.
- A.E. is a parent whose son attended Sherman Elementary School but transferred to a charter school outside of the district because he received “unfair treatment and discipline.”
Sarah Hinger, senior staff attorney in the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU, said in Wednesday’s press release that all students, regardless of their background, should be set for success and not be unjustly targeted and labeled as gang members.
Hinger said minor dress code violations can build up to expulsions that push Latino and other students of color who are more likely to be disciplined out of schools.
“Schools should prioritize fostering an environment that celebrates and recognizes — rather than punishes — the culture, ethnicity, and religious identities of Latines and other students of color,” Hinger said in the release. “We urge the Nampa School District to stop implementing gang dress codes, which have led to over policing and targeting, and have jeopardized the rights of Latine students to learn in an environment free of discrimination.”
A copy of the complaint can be found below: