COTTONWOOD, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - A Cottonwood high school is under fire by the ACLU after students say their privacy rights are being violated by the color of school ID they’re given.
The policy at Mingus High School is simple: lowerclassmen wear red ID badge cards, and upperclassmen wear gray. But this year, upperclassmen who have fallen behind academically have been forced to wear red badges too, and those students say it’s led to bullying and public shame.
High school junior Jordan Pickett spends a lot of time outside school in the doctor’s office. She suffers from anemia.
“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,” said Pickett.
Not only has she had to miss school, but said she has fallen behind in some of her classes because of it. So at the start of the school year, when the rest of the juniors got gray ID badges, she got a red one. The school said the badges are for safety; red for the lowerclassmen who are not allowed to leave campus, and gray for the upperclassmen who can.
But upperclassmen who have academic struggles like Pickett and her friend Jonah Ray, were given what they consider the scarlet badge.
“Upperclassmen who are missing any credit, whatsoever, any credit, are immediately slapped with a red card,” said Ray. “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,' he recalled about an experience in class earlier this year.
Pickett and Ray went to a school board meeting this fall to ask school faculty to consider a different option that doesn't expose their personal struggles to everyone, but so far nothing has changed.
This caught the attention of the ACLU, who said this violates the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, which requires schools to maintain privacy of students’ educational records.
They chose to take further action this week.
“We decided to send them a legal letter letting them know that this is unlawful and it needs to change immediately,” said Marcela Taracena, with the ACLU of Arizona.
Pickett hopes bringing the issue to light will get her and other students out of the spotlight, who feel they’re in it for the wrong reasons.
“It is disappointing that there hasn’t been anything done about it yet,” said Pickett.
The school’s attorney tells AZ Family the policy is not inappropriate and doesn’t violate the law, because FERPA allows for the release of “directory information.”
On Wednesday, Mingus Union High School’s attorney issued a formal response, claiming this is about safety and is not illegal.
In the letter, it said grade level is "directory information" and parents have allowed that to be public unless they fill out a non-release form, which includes grade level.
The form is available on the school's website.
The attorney also said the school hasn’t received a form from those who are complaining. She said if the form is filled out, the students will be given a clear or white ID, neither identifying with the red or gray. Ray said that doesn’t fix the problem.
“They’re still splitting people in two,” Ray said.
“It really comes down to feeling singled out?” asked reporter Briana Whitney.
“Yes. Detached from friend groups, from certain classes, classmates,” he said.
The school's attorney said there is a slew of reasons a family can choose to have a non-identifying badge, and they're not going to base policy off student assumptions.
The school's response also said the ACLU characterizing it as a "scarlet badge" is misleading because the ID’s are not punishment, ad the school's colors are red and gray.
But Ray says this truly is an ethical problem.
“[It] publicly shames and humiliates us. I don’t want to walk away from it doing nothing,” he said.
The school also said they'll be sending out a letter reminding parents that they can sign a form for their kids to have an ID that doesn't identify grade.
The ACLU told us their attorneys are reading over the school's response and will get back to us with their own response back.