A Minnesota high school student who wears rosary beads to school in support of his cancer-stricken grandmother was ordered to pocket them by school district officials, who said the beads could be a symbol of gang membership.
Jake Balthazor, 15, of Coon Rapids, a northern suburb of Minneapolis, was told Wednesday by Coon Rapids High School officials that he could no longer wear the black and silver rosary honoring his grandmother, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, his father told FoxNews.com.
“He was told not to wear it again,” Chad Balthazor said Thursday. “He was upset when he came home from school. A teacher sent him down to the office, but the reason he was wearing it was for his grandmother.”
The school district’s policy forbids any “apparel, jewelry, accessories or matter of grooming which by virtue of its color arrangement, trademark or any other attribute denotes membership in an organized gang,” Mary Olson, director of communication for the Anoka-Hennepin School District, told FoxNews.com.
“Jake is just doing it for his grandmother. He’s not in a gang.”
- Chad Balthazor, father
Olson said Coon Rapids police informed the district in early May that some local gangs, namely the Latin Kings and the Surenos, do use rosary beads as affiliation symbols.
“He was told [Wednesday] by staff not to wear it to school and they were not told he was wearing it because of his grandmother,” Olson said. “He was told not to wear it because it’s a gang symbol. He may not think of it as a gang symbol, but other students at the school may.”
Balthazor was told he could bring the beads to school if kept in his pocket, Olson said.
Sue Thompson, Balthazor’s grandmother, told FoxNews.com she disagreed with the policy as she was traveling to a local hospital for surgery early Thursday.
“I think it’s pretty bad,” Thompson said. “I’m really upset with the district.”
Coon Rapids Police Department Capt. John Hattstrom confirmed to FoxNews.com that a memo was sent to local school officials advising them that some gangs use the beads as a way of identifying members. The memo did not contain a directive to ban the beads, he said.
“They make their own decisions on policy,” Hattstrom said.
Balthazor said his son told him he’d wear the beads around his neck to school Thursday and that he’d put them in his pocket if asked. He also called upon the district to review its policy.
“Jake is just doing it for his grandmother,” he said. “He’s not in a gang.”