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Judge rules Colorado student cannot wear a sash with Mexican and American flags during graduation

Naomi Peña Villasano poses with a sash of the Mexican and American flags. (Photo: Daisy Jasmin Estrada Borja/AP)

(CNN) — A federal judge has ruled for a Colorado school district after a student sued to wear a sash reflecting the Mexican and American flags at graduation Saturday.

The lawsuit said the district violated Naomi Peña Villasano’s “constitutionally protected right to free speech.” Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund attorneys, representing Villasano, also sought a temporary restraining order to allow Villasano to wear the sash at the May 27 ceremony while the court considered their claims.

But Judge Nina Y. Wang on Friday denied that motion.

According to the order, Garfield County School District 16, in the western part of the state, had indicated that sashes or cords worn during graduation typically represent membership in a nationally recognized organization; other distinctions such as class honors; future military service; or “regalia that is part of a Native American or Pacific Islander tribe.” Additionally, the school district’s policy says “(i)t is appropriate” to decorate a cap with the “flag of a country as recognized by the United Nations,” the order said.

In her ruling, Wang said that a student wearing regalia at graduation sends a message that the school approves, so it “qualifies as school-sponsored speech, at least for the duration of the ceremony.” The district insisted that standardized attire was required to create a message of unity, a concern that the judge deemed legitimate.

The judge also pointed out that the district’s policy would have permitted Villasano to reproduce the design of the sash on her graduation cap, and would have allowed her to wear the sash before and after the ceremony.

“While Naomi may prefer to wear the sash during the graduation ceremony, the Court respectfully agrees with the School District and concludes that Naomi will not suffer irreparable injury by having to express her culture in a form other than the sash,” Wang wrote.

CNN has reached out to attorneys for Garfield County School District 16 and Villasano’s attorneys with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund for comment.

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