A 15-year-old Minnesota high school student has been told by school district officials to remove the rosary beads he wears in support of his cancer-stricken grandmother, saying the religious item could be mistaken as a symbol of gang membership.
Jake Balthazor was told on Wednesday at the Coon Rapids High School that he will not be allowed to wear his black and silver rosary honoring his grandmother, because of its negative affiliation.
"He was told not to wear it again. 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," his father, Chad Balthazor said Thursday to Fox News. "He is not in a gang."
The school 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," explained Mary Olson, director of communication for the Anoka-Hennepin School District. She also revealed that in early May, police informed them that local gangs, like the Latin Kings and the Surenos, use rosary beads as affiliation symbols.
The Coon Rapids Police Department has admitted to sending out a memo to schools warning them of such gangs, but said that they had not advised to school to ban the beads altogether.
"They make their own decisions on policy," said Capt. John Hattstrom.
"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 added about the incident. "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."
Jake Balthazor will be allowed to bring the beads, but only if he keeps them in his pocket and does not show them to others.
The cancer-stricken grandmother, however, said she disagrees with the school's policy.
"I think it's pretty bad," remarked Sue Thompson. "I'm really upset with the district."
Schools banning religious symbols based on fears they will be mistaken for gang signs is not uncommon. Last year, a 12-year-old Nebraska girl was also forbidden from wearing her rosary-style necklace at school because the cross was deemed to be a symbol of gang affiliation.