Friday, September 14, 2012

Thompson Valley High School student's rosary beads taken away

Manuel Vigil has had two sets confiscated in three weeks by the school, which says they're gang-related

By Jessica Maher

(Loveland Reporter-Herald) In an attempt to keep gang activity out of the school, Thompson Valley High School officials say they take any number of measures, including barring rosary beads when their use is deemed inappropriate.

And in the three weeks since school has been in session, Thompson Valley High junior Manuel Vigil has had two sets of rosary beads he wore around his neck confiscated.

Vigil, who is Catholic, has worn the rosary beads around his neck all summer. His mother, Antoinette Ramirez, said they've become especially important in helping him deal with the recent murder of an uncle in California.

"Having the rosary taken away was kind of like a huge hit for him," she said. "He wears it as a form of protection for himself."

But officials say that rosary beads themselves are not prohibited.

"It wasn't consistent with what would normally be a rosary, and because of that we felt like it could be gang-related," principal Mark Johnson said. "There was no punishment; we just removed it."

According to the Thompson School District dress code, unacceptable items include any clothing, grooming, jewelry, accessories or body adornments that "by virtue of color, arrangement, trademark, or other attribute denote membership in gangs which advocate drug use, violence, or disruptive behavior."

The school enforces its policy based on information from the Loveland Police Department.

"We meet with the gang unit on a regular basis, and they do tell us what to look for," Johnson said. "We want to make sure we keep on top of what is the latest gang stuff."

The latest in gang trends, and what the school may choose to ban, varies from year to year. At Thompson Valley High, bandanas and clothing with gang names or symbols are never allowed. At times, certain colors are prohibited if it appears a student is wearing a color to signal gang affiliation.

"It depends on what's going on in the world," Johnson said. "You have to pay attention to colors and what they're doing."

In Greeley-Evans School District 6, some numbers are banned based on street number gangs, which caused a recent firestorm when a third-grader had a Denver Broncos No. 18 Peyton Manning jersey barred.
Across the country, rosary beads around the neck have been barred in schools because some gangs, including the Sureños and the Latin Kings, wear them that way. If a student wears a rosary around his neck at Thompson Valley High, Johnson said it's the school's policy to ask the student why he's wearing it.

It's often a case-by-case situation, said Johnson, who said Vigil's response was simply that he had the right to wear the rosary beads.

"If we determine that something is gang-related, then we have the right to say they can't wear it, so some of that is subjective," he said.
While the purpose of the rosary is to aid in prayer and not as a means of fashion, the Rev. Sam Morehead of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Loveland said the church allows wearing rosary beads as a necklace. Particularly in Hispanic culture, Morehead said wearing a rosary around the neck has become an important part of Catholic identity in the past 20 or 30 years.

"It's actually quite distressing for me personally to hear that something that represents one's Catholic faith is being seemingly persecuted in the school setting when it is certainly not a symbol of gang membership," he said.

According to Loveland Police Sgt. David Murphy, who leads the school resource officers in the Thompson School District, Vigil's rosary had a red-flagging 13 beads in a row instead of a traditional rosary with 10 beads. The number 13 is sometimes associated with the Sureños gang, Murphy said.

According to Ramirez, her son purchased the rosaries at teen retailer rue21 and had not noticed the number of beads.

"For him, he feels safe when he has it on," she said.

While a rosary with 13 beads in a row might be considered suspicious, Morehead said he would be hesitant to rush to any conclusions.

"For all the lack of knowledge that there is and perhaps any naivete, there is still a lot of good will for people who want to have this symbol of faith," he said.

Jessica Maher can be reached at 669-5050 ext. 516 or Follow her on Twitter: @JessicaMaherRH.


1 comment:

Jim Dorchak said...

The Rev. Sam Morehead is a little off on this and likely did not remember his Catholic School upbringing (if he had one).
I still remember my favorite teacher Sr. Kyran Hennessy (God bless her and rest her soul) reguarly chastising her class for wearing a rosary around your neck. "It is sacralidge to do so and a Rosary is not to be worn around the neck! SMACK on the back of the head!"
I am farmiliar with the hispanic community and culture as I have lived there.... and the same rules apply.
Sounds like either these people are being played by the student or the student is poorly catechised or both (ie, 13 beads... then it is not a rosary). However this does not minimalize the schools marxist doctrine.
A Rosary should be stored in your pocket (preferably over your heart) and a scapular should be worn around your neck.

Jim Dorchak