Colorado middle-schooler expelled for ‘Don’t tread on me’ patch, alleged ties to slavery

A Colorado middle school student was allegedly dismissed from class due to several patches on his backpack, notably including a Gadsden flag patch, which ignited a firestorm on social media.

According to footage shared on X (formerly Twitter), the 12-year-old attending The Vanguard School was instructed to remove the Gadsden flag patch—an image of a coiled rattlesnake with the words “Don’t tread on me” on a yellow backdrop—before being readmitted to class. A video of a meeting between the child’s mother and a school administrator captured this incident.

In the video, the administrator from the public charter school cites the flag’s “origins with slavery and the slave trade” as the reason for disallowing the display. However, the mother counters that the Gadsden flag’s roots trace back to the Revolutionary War, not slavery.

Furthermore, the student reportedly had other patches featuring semi-automatic weapons, which violated the school’s dress code policy.

Conservative author Connor Boyack posted the meeting clip, which rapidly gained traction online, stimulating a nationwide dialogue about the flag’s history and significance. Even Colorado Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat, stepped in to support the student, stating that the Gadsden flag symbolizes American revolution and serves as a warning against government encroachment.

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In response to the video, Polis tweeted, “It’s a great teaching moment for a history lesson! The flag was first used by the US’s first naval commander-in-chief as a personal ensign during the American Revolution, according to Britannica.”

Despite its historical associations, the Gadsden flag has been embraced by the conservative Tea Party movement and connected with right-wing politics in recent times. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission acknowledged in 2016 that while the flag itself is not intrinsically racist, it can convey racially-tinged messages in certain contexts.

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In light of the public outcry, The Vanguard School’s board of directors conducted an emergency meeting and reversed their decision, permitting the student named Jaiden to reintroduce the flag patch to his backpack. The school district conveyed that the incident underscored the importance of reaffirming their commitment to constitutional principles and classical education.

However, the school district highlighted that the dispute over the Gadsden flag, though widely reported, is only part of the story. The child had other patches depicting semi-automatic guns on the backpack, which were removed, allowing the student to return to class without further issue.

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