According to David, he’s been told that he’s allowed to wear his rosary, now, though the principal would prefer he would wear it inside his shirt. (I’m not sure what to make of that, but he has not been inclined to do so.)

Also, David said someone called his mother and apologized. So there’s that.

The one lingering thread is that it’s not super clear whether or not this suspension is actually still on his record. This is a point of clarity his parents are going to have to request to see, since they’re the ones with a right to inspect his record, and I’ll let you know if there are any snags there. But overall, it sounds like the district has been very quick to take corrective action.

In my head, I assume if you apologize, you know it was wrong, and if you know it was wrong, you take it off his record, but as the saying goes, “trust everybody, but cut the cards.”

Principal Lisa Mazza signed the edict suspending a student for two days for wearing a rosary. Oh, but she’s not all bad. Look at this welcome message from March 2013:

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I’ll retype it for you!

Here we are on the first day of spring, quickly approaching the end of second semester. Fabulous seniors, doesn’t this final year of high school go by extremely fast? We are very proud of the daily effort and dedication our students show as they diligently work for that all-important reward—a high school diploma! If we can be of any assistance as you strive to meet this life milestone, don’t hesitate to let us know. We are here for each of you—seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen, alike.

I’d like to remind students and their parents of the importance of daily school attendance.

— Principal Lisa Mazza, Greenfield High School, March 2013

Huh, that’s weird. That kind of sounds familiar. Where have I heard that vacuous gibberish before? I feel like it was… I don’t know. Off the top of my head, in November of last year, in Utah.

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Don’t worry, I’ll retype that too…

Great Royals!   We are fast approaching the end of first semester.  Mighty seniors, doesn’t this final year of high school go by extremely fast?   We are very proud of the daily effort and dedication our students show as they diligently work for that all-important reward—a high school diploma!   If we can be of any assistance as you strive to meet this life milestone, don’t hesitate to let us know.   We are here for each of you—seniors, juniors, and sophomores, alike.   

We’d like to remind students and their parents of the absolute importance of regular school attendance…

— Principal Gina Butters, Roy High School, Utah in November 2012

Huh. Uhm, what’s the plagiarism policy at Greenfield? Do you even have a rule against that, or can students go ahead and copy whatever they like?

I mean, to be fair, it’s not exactly the same. Principal Butters called her students mighty; you called them fabulous. Because, you know, mighty students might think they had the power to wear rosaries or something, I guess?

William Toler looked at the dress code and said he was surprised it hasn’t been challenged yet, and linked to the school rules for me.

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(Click to see the full-size version).

I gotta say, he’s got a point. It’s like whoever wrote this was just skipping through a field, blissfully ignorant of the existence of any kind of limitation on the censorship they could impose, or that there are distinctions between expresive and non-expressive conduct, or that the standard for a dress code is higher than “we think it might be a good idea.” And don’t snivel that you said you might change it later. First, changing it to something constitutional wouldn’t change the chilling effect. Second, you would have to actually change it and distribute it. I guess I should point out, by the way, THIS SAYS NOTHING WHATSOEVER ABOUT ROSARIES.

While the standard applicable is fuzzy, you don’t need to be a genius to realize it can’t be met on these facts alone. To conduct a search of a student’s phone, a school would need “reasonable suspicion” that (a) a rule violation or crime has been committed, and (b) that the search of the phone will turn up information related to the rule violation or crime. New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985).


So, pray tell, what “reasonable suspicion” connected to a dress code violation would justify searching a cell phone here? You think maybe he took pictures of his wardrobe?

You looking to see if he was checking the price on the new Jordans, planning his sinister future dress code violations?


You worried he’s going to convert to Judiasm and violate the dress code with a yarmulke?

Seriously, please, tell me the master plot you were foiling with this search.

(I’m Adam Goldstein, by the way. I’m an attorney licensed in NY, but not in California; David’s left a message with an organization in California who, hopefully, will call him back tomorrow.)

As to whether students have a right to wear rosaries, well, that’s not even a hard question. Courts have been pretty clear about that.

In Chalifoux v. New Caney Independent School District, 976 F. Supp 659 (S.D. Tex. 1997), a federal court found that Catholic students had a right to wear rosaries, even if gangs used them as identification. See also Stephenson v. Davenport Community School Dist., 110 F.3d 1303 (8th Cir. 1997) (holding that a school’s requirement that a student remove a cross tattoo violated the First Amendment).

And it’s not even about rosaries, as such. In Jeglin v. San Jacinto Unified School District, 827 F. Supp. 1459 (C.D. Cal. 1993), a court examined a dress code policy that prohibited sports team insignias as part of a hypothetical “anti-gang” policy. It struck down the prohibition in two schools, upholding it in a third, saying that there must be some articulable evidence of a potentially disruptive gang presence, and must be associated with gang-related disturbances.

But even then, I don’t think there’d be a basis for prohibiting it; a rosary is not a sports logo. It’s a specific communicative message involving a fundamental right. Nor is a rosary itself an indication of gang affiliation, any more than wearing shoes is. That is, most of the people who do it aren’t in a gang.

My grandmother has a rosary—should I be worried? You think she’s going to hit the potlock with a jack move, take all the casseroles?

Even INMATES have a right to possess a rosary. Campus v. Coughlin, 854 F.Supp. 194 (S.D.N.Y. 1994) (Sotomayor, J.). (One way to tell you’re not really cut out for the job of public education is you make an environment more hostile than prison.)

But I have to assume the school didn’t know that, because why else would you write it down? You’d have to be pretty thick to write it down if you possessed the slightest awareness that there’s a constitutional limitation.

At about 8:30 PM (Eastern) on Thursday, I got a call from David Lara, a student at Greenfield High School in Greenfield, California. The brief version of the story he tells: he got suspended for two days because he wore a rosary and wouldn’t take it off. 

David also says he offered to tuck it into his shirt, but that wasn’t good enough for the principal. He also said that the school resource officer searched his phone.

I asked if they gave him anything in writing; he said yes. I asked him to send me a cameraphone picture of it. This is it:

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"Student wearing rosaries, refuses to remove them."(Click the image for the full size.)

Yikes.