A Colorado school has kicked a 12-year-old student off campus for refusing to remove a patch on his backpack depicting the nation’s historical “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.
According to a video and documents first posted by Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, a seventh grader at The Vanguard Secondary School named Jaiden and his parents were dragged into a meeting Monday with an unnamed administrator.
The reason? Staff argued that the banner featuring a rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me” on Jaiden’s backpack, known as the Gadsden flag, is associated with “slavery” and “the slave trade.”
The Vanguard Secondary School is a charter school that is part of Harrison School District 2 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
When asked what would happen if Jaiden didn’t remove the flag from his backpack, the administrator deflects, saying she is worried he is missing “so much class” and telling Jaiden to remove his things from his backpack and carry them around himself.
The administrator tells Jaiden’s parents that “we can’t have that [flag] around other kids,” according to the video.
Jaiden’s parents correct the administrator, again, by reminding her that the Gadsden flag was one of the United States’ standards flown in the American Revolutionary War against the British, and had nothing to do with slavery.
The student’s parents ask the administrator if perhaps she is thinking of “the Confederate flag.”
The administrator deflects again, saying, “I am just here to enforce the policy that was provided by the [school] district, and definitely you have every right to not agree with it.”
After Jaiden’s parents point out that no such policy in The Vanguard Secondary School or Harrison School District 2 exists to ban the Gadsden flag or other historical flags, the counselor repeats herself again. “We’re just following district policy,” the administrator says.
In an email exchange Monday between Jaiden’s parents and Jeff Yocum, executive director of The Vanguard Secondary School, Yocum says that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had determined that the Gadsden flag is an “unacceptable symbol.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, however, later admitted that the Gadsden flag “originated in the Revolutionary War in a non-racial context.”
Vanguard’s Yocum also said the Gadsden flag was tied to “the Confederate flag and other white-supremacy groups, including ‘Patriot’ groups,” citing a left-wing blog post by a graphic design artist.
Finally, Yocum said in the email to Jaiden’s parents that no symbol or flag worn at school may “refer to drugs, tobacco, alcohol, or weapons.”
All of Yocum and the administrator’s claims in the video concerning the Gadsden flag are objectively and explicitly false.
The Gadsden flag originated during the French and Indian War from the printing presses of Benjamin Franklin, an outspoken abolitionist as well as a Founding Father.
The rattlesnake imagery depicted on the Gadsden flag became popular as a representation of the unity and fierce pride of the 13 American colonies—shown in this “Join or Die” imagery published in 1754 in the Pennsylvania Gazette:
The Gadsden flag served as the the first naval jack; as the unit standard for the first regiment of Marines detached from Philadelphia and the United Companies of the Train of Artillery of the Town of Providence (Rhode Island); and as the banner of the Culpeper Minutemen.
The flag was named after Col. Christopher Gadsden, who united the rattlesnake and the motto “DONT TREAD ON ME” over a yellow standard, sending it to Esek Hopkins, commodore of the nation’s new Navy in December 1775, followed by the South Carolina Congress in February 1776.
In 1975-76, the Navy ordered the flying of a Gadsden flag in place of the Union Jack as part of the celebration of the nation’s bicentennial. In 2002, the Navy authorized warships and auxiliaries to fly the flag during the War on Terrorism.
The flag is still flown in Charleston, South Carolina, to honor Gadsden.
Notably, the Culpeper Minutemen enlisted one of the more “racially diverse” units in the Revolutionary War, with 14 blacks and Native Americans, including a black flag-bearer. These men were specifically honored in a statue dedication and bricklaying ceremony in 2020.
No evidence has yet been provided by The Vanguard Secondary School that the Gadsden flag refers to “drugs, tobacco, alcohol, or weapons.” If one makes the claim that any flag used by military units refers to weapons, then flags of any sort would be banned from school property.
Jaiden announced he would return to class Tuesday wearing the Gadsden flag patch prominently on his backpack. Libertas Institute’s Boyack reports that “two law firms have stepped forward to assist as necessary to fight viewpoint discrimination.”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis responded to the video posted by Boyack on X, formerly Twitter, calling the flag “a great teaching moment for a history lesson.”
Polis, a Democrat, said:
Obviously the Gadsden flag is a proud symbol of the American revolution and an iconic warning to Britain or any government not to violate the liberties of Americans. It appears on popular American medallions and challenge coins through today and Ben Franklin also adopted it to symbolize the union of the 13 colonies. It’s a great teaching moment for a history lesson!
Both The Vanguard Secondary School and Yocum himself declined to provide a comment to The Daily Signal.
Following the incident Monday, Boyack says, Jaiden asked his parents to take him to KOAA-TV News5, a station in Colorado Springs, and “get the word out.”
The local NBC affiliate apparently declined the interview.
This report was modified Sept. 24 to clarify, after we heard from several readers, how the 248-year Gadsden flag has been revived for military use in the past 50 years.
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