School policy forces kids with bad grades to wear special IDs: 'Public ridicule,' says ACLU

The ACLU of Arizona is fighting on behalf of Jordan Pickett, saying her school forces upperclassmen to wear red ID badges that suggest they’re not doing well in school. (Photo: ACLU of Arizona)
The ACLU of Arizona is fighting on behalf of Jordan Pickett, saying her school forces upperclassmen to wear red ID badges that suggest they’re not doing well in school. (Photo: ACLU of Arizona)

A high school that requires some students to wear ID badges announcing their failing grades is causing bullying and public ridicule, especially for students with learning disabilities, and has caused the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to step in.

Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood, Ariz., issues ID badges for all students to hang around their necks — freshmen and sophomores wear red-colored cards and juniors and seniors wear gray, both of which are school colors. “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,” attorney Susan Segal, who is representing the school, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “At Mingus, older kids are allowed to leave campus for lunch, and their colored badges indicate their grade level to security guards.”

But according to the Arizona chapter of the ACLU, upperclassmen who struggle in classes must also wear red badges (aka “scarlet badges” of shame) with numbers that indicate their repeated grade level if their marks don’t improve. “Not surprisingly, students forced to wear the bright-red badges have experienced increased bullying, public ridicule, and shaming by other students and teachers,” reads a Dec. 28 letter from the ACLU to superintendent Genie Gee.

A student whose identity was kept private “has heard other students call classmates wearing the scarlet badge ‘stupid’ and ‘problem kids,'” wrote legal director Kathleen E. Brody. The student “reports that because of wearing the scarlet badge, [redacted] receives less individual instruction from teachers because they assume [redacted] is not interested, motivated, or capable of learning. This all causes [redacted] to experience increased anxiety at school, feel ostracized from other students, and feel stigmatized by teachers and administrators.”

The ACLU says the scarlet badges violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that keeps students’ educational records private, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees that people be treated equally.

One junior named Jordan Pickett, who missed classes due to her severe anemia, says her red badge singles her out. “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,” she told AZ Family.

Pickett’s friend Jonah Ray also wears a red badge. “Upperclassmen who are missing any credit whatsoever, any credit, are immediately slapped with a red card,” said Ray, according to AZ Family. “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.'”

In the fall, reported AZ Family, the teens unsuccessfully argued their case against badges during a school board meeting.

Pickett was assigned a red badge because she hasn’t earned the required 12 credits to keep her in 11th grade, although Segal couldn’t elaborate on the details for Yahoo Lifestyle, noting, “The family says she has a disability. However, there has never been a request for disability designation.”

The school’s actions are law-abiding, says Segal, because FERPA allows the release of “directory information” such as “name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, and dates of attendance” unless otherwise stated by the family. “Jordan’s family never opted out of the disclosure of directory information,” Segal tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

However, Brody says designated colors signifying a student’s competency skirt FERPA rules. “Anyone can clearly see that Jordan isn’t doing as well as expected,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “There has to be a way for the school to manage this without a sign on students’ chests. Jordan feels slighted by her teachers or made to feel not as smart, whereas the opposite is true.”

Neither Segal nor Brody could share with Yahoo Lifestyle the number of upperclassmen required to wear red badges.

On Wednesday, Segal sent a response to the ACLU, citing the Department of Education‘s regulation that doesn’t permit parents to “opt out” of allowing students to wear identification that includes directory information. She also stated that calling the red badges a “scarlet letter” is misleading.

However, the school agreed to remove the number 11 from Pickett’s badge, and if Pickett’s mother decides to opt out of disclosing directory information, the teen will receive a badge that doesn’t indicate her grade or color.

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