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
"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
"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
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,
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @JessicaMaherRH.