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Caldwell students hope for change, following graffiti incident

This comes one week after a high school student was told to either take her "Brown Pride" sweatshirt off or turn it inside out.

CALDWELL, Idaho — Some community members believe Caldwell School District's dress code policy is too broad and disproportionately singles out Hispanic students. 

"All I'm asking for is equality," small business owner Sonny Ligas said. "It's not equal, and it needs to be equal." 

Ligas coordinated a meeting on Monday to discuss the initiative, which started after a Caldwell High School student was asked to either take her "Brown Pride" sweatshirt off or turn it inside out. 

District policy states "students on school property or at any school-sponsored activity shall not: wear, possess, use, distribute or sell any clothing, jewelry, emblem, badge, symbol, sign or other ideas which are evidence of membership in or affiliation with any gang or representative of any gang.”

The sweatshirt violated this policy because the term "Brown Pride" is "associated with street gangs currently operating in the Northwest," according to a statement from the school district. 

Ligas disagrees. 

"It's part of our culture and heritage," he said. 

About 30 people showed up to the meeting. Various Treasure Valley civil rights groups were also there, like PODER of Idaho and the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Dina Flores-Brewer, ACLU community intake coordinator, said the phrase "Brown Pride" goes back farther than gangs. 

"'Brown Pride' dates back decades to the Chicano Movement," she said. "Long before any gangs may or may not have appropriated this clothing or these statements, these were very important cultural ideals to the Latino community and a form of political protest." 

Ensuring students know their rights is extremely important, Flores-Brewer said. Depending on the situation, clothing may be an extension of someone's right to free speech.

She said school districts should also be carefully crafting their policies.

"It's a balancing act for the schools, but they have to take care that their policies are not disproportionately enforced against a certain population because of their race or color," Flores-Brewer said.

Two days after the protest, the high school was tagged with graffiti. "white power" was spray painted on a wall. 

Ben Heinrich, Caldwell Police Department lieutenant, said it was gang-related with similarities to other graffiti around town. CPD originally said it was a potential hate crime. 

"I think the 'white power' that they spray painted was just something that they threw on there to utilize the "Brown Pride" rally to further or agenda," Heinrich said.

It is still an active investigation, however, Ligas looks at it as Caldwell's Hispanic community being unfairly targeted once again. 

"It's really easy to point out the Chicanos or Latinos, they're the gang problem," he said. "[But] I can't think of one kid or another gang that would end up putting 'white power' or anything like that." 

Ligas said a group of people, including the student who was asked to take off her hoodie, plan on attending the next Caldwell School District meeting. They hope to persuade the board to review the dress code policy.  

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