A high school requires students who have fallen behind in class to wear 'scarlet badges' that have led to 'public ridicule'

ACLU of ArizonaMingus High School in Cottonwood, Arizona, say their rights are violated by the badges.
  • All students at Mingus Union High School have to wear ID badges.
  • But students in 11th and 12th grade who are missing credits have to wear a different “scarlet badge,” which students say cause them to be shamed by their peers and teachers.
  • According to a December 28 complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the district is violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) by forcing the students to wear the badges, thereby disclosing their academic records.
  • The district says it is fine, as student’s can “opt out” of disclosing the direcotry information that goes on the badges.
  • The ACLU wants the district to end the policy immediately, calling it “unlawful.”

At Mingus Union High School Cottonwood, Arizona, every student is required to wear an ID badge. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona is arguing that not all badges are the same.

According to a December 28 letter sent to the district from the ACLU made available on the ACLU’s website, students in the 11th and 12th grade who are missing credits are required to wear a “scarlet badge” with a bright red background. Students claim this badge has led them to be bullied and ostracized by their peers and teachers. Per the complaint, these badges contrast from the ones worn by their peers, which have a grey background.

“Students forced to wear the bright red badges have experienced increased bullying, public ridicule, and shaming by other students and teachers. [Redacted] has heard other students call classmates wearing the scarlet badge ‘stupid’ and ‘problem kids,'” according to the letter from ACLU of Arizona legal director Kathleen Brody to superintendent Genie Gee.

According to the ACLU complaint, this policy violates the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), as forcing the students to wear the badges inherently discloses their academic information, which includes grades, disciplinary records, family information, and class schedules. Schools can only release that information with a student’s consent and in specific cases, according to the ACLU.

Read more: A black teacher who filed a racial discrimination suit against her New York school claims colleagues told her an office lunch table was for ‘whites only’

It’s not immediately clear how many students have been given the bright red badges. Student Jordan Pickett, for example, told AZ Family, that she was given a “scarlet badge” because she misses class in order to see doctors to manage her anemia.

“I have to go down to Phoenix to do doctor visits and all that, so I miss a lot of days of school because of it,” Pickett said. This travel time has caused her to fall behind in classes, earning her a red card – and the stigma attached to it, she told the outlet.

Jonah Ray told AZ Family that since he has been required to wear a “scarlet badge” he has been judged by his peers, too.

“Upperclassmen who are missing any credit, whatsoever, any credit, are immediately slapped with a red card,” he said. “I said I like to study history. And a kid immediately chimed in saying ‘You like to study, then why do you have a red card? That must mean you’re stupid or something.'”

The teens told AZ Family that they tried to petition the school board against the badges in the fall, but to no avail. That’s when they enlisted the help of the ACLU.

According to the ACLU complaint, at a September 13 school board meeting students shared how the badges contributed to “their experiences being bullied and harassed, and the discriminatory effect that the policy had on the students with disabilities.” In response, the district exchanged one student’s red badge for a grey one.

The school district maintains that the policy is legal under FERPA, Attorney Susan Segal, who represents the school district, wrote in a response to the ACLU obtained by INSIDER. According to Segal’s letter, parents can “opt out” of requiring students to wear IDs containing directory information, like name, family information, and school records, per a Department of Education regulation.

Segal also said the school district decided to implement the badges this school year for the students’ safety.

“These are standard badges worn by students at schools across the nation issued in large part as identification in the case of a school shooting,” Segal told Yahoo Lifestyle. “At Mingus, older kids are allowed to leave campus for lunch and their coloured badges indicate their grade level to security guards.”

But the ACLU maintains that this policy needs to be ended immediately to comply with FERPA – and to stop students from feeling marginalized.

The letter concludes: “Singling out students who are struggling academically for public ridicule does not improve educational achievement. In fact, it does just the opposite.”

Representatives for the ACLU of Arizona didn’t immediately respond to INSIDER’s request for comment.

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