An argument concerning First Amendment rights in schools has been sparked by a recent event in which a middle school student in Colorado was expelled for wearing a Gadsden flag patch on his bag. The 12-year-old student’s mother alleges that by forcing him to take off the patch, the school infringed his constitutional rights. Questions concerning the historical background of symbols like the Gadsden flag and the degree to which schools can control students’ freedom of speech were brought up as the incident attracted widespread notice.

What the Gadsden Flag Means!

With its coiled rattlesnake and its motto, “Don’t tread on me,” the Gadsden flag has historical significance dating back to the American Revolution. As a symbol of rebellion against repressive government, it is a famous illustration of personal autonomy and struggle against oppression. But the flag has also been connected to specific political movements and ideologies in recent years.

The Event and the Discussion on the First Amendment

The incident started when Gadsden flag patch and several others were visible on the backpack of Vanguard School student Jaiden Rodriguez. Because the flag “origins with slavery and the slave trade,” as stated by a school administrator, the school instructed him to remove it. Rodriguez’s mother disagreed, pointing out that slavery was not the flag’s original source—rather, it was the Revolutionary War. Other patches, such as ones with pictures of guns, were also reported by the school for breaking the dress code.

Rights to the First Amendment in Schools

Legal experts on the First Amendment have offered their opinions on the matter. Attorney Steven Zansberg stressed that when students enter a school setting, they do not give up their First Amendment rights. He claimed that there has to be a major disturbance to the instructional objective for schools to be able to control student speech. Zansberg voiced doubt that the Gadsden flag patch display, in addition to other patches, satisfied this requirement.

Reaction and Settlement

The event attracted a lot of media attention, and Colorado Governor Jared Polis took notice and stood up for the student’s freedom to voice his opinions. The Gadsden flag patch was only one of numerous patches—including ones with images of guns—that were connected to the problem, according to a statement released by the Vanguard School. According to the school, the student left the patches with pictures of guns on them and came back to class.

The board of directors of the school called an emergency meeting and apparently changed their position on the Gadsden flag patch in reaction to public outcry.