Zero tolerance policies have led to some egregious decisions by schools lately, but this one might be the most outrageous.
Thirteen-year-old Raymond Hosier was sent home from Oneida Middle School in Schenectady, New York, on May 17 for refusing to take off his rosary beads or hide them under his shirt; the reason given was that the school dress code terms beads “gang-related symbols.” When he returned to school the following week, still wearing his purple rosary, he was suspended indefinitely.
His mother, Chantell Hosier, decided that enough was enough; on June 1, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of Raymond and his mother, against Schenectady City School District and school officials, arguing that Raymond’s suspension last month violated his rights to free speech and religion.
As a result, a federal judge last Tuesday ordered the school to reinstate Raymond immediately, pending a hearing on June 11 as to whether the suspension violated the boy’s civil rights. The lawsuit asks the court to declare the school’s dress code and Raymond’s suspension unconstitutional.
At this point, you may be wondering why a seventh-grader is so attached to his prayer beads. It turns out that he wears them in memory of his younger brother who died clutching a rosary following a car accident in 2005.
“Raymond believes in his heart of hearts that without the rosary, something’s going to happen to him,” said his mother. “They make him feel safe – that’s the way he explains it. This child is still grieving.”
Let’s look at what’s going on here: surely if rosaries are sometimes worn as gang symbols, it would have been appropriate for school officials to ask the middle schooler why he was wearing the rosary. And then, once they had heard his explanation, they should have offered him their sympathy and let him go on his way.
This is not the only instance of punishing students for wearing a rosary: a 14-year-old boy in Haverstraw, N.Y., was suspended for a day for the same offence in February, and a Dallas, TX, high school student was also asked to remove rosary beads, in September 2008.
And so we have yet another example, just like the nine-year-olds suspended for “gang” haircuts, and the girl arrested for writing on her desk, of school administrators putting policy in front of actual thinking. Schools have real and serious issues to deal with, but instead they are wasting their time on bureaucratic nonsense like this.
Wake up, school administrators, and get your priorities in order!
Creative Commons - Andres Rueda