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Friday, November 11, 2005 - Page updated at 03:48 PM

Chelan School District backs off rosary bead ban

The Associated Press

CHELAN — The Lake Chelan School District has rescinded a ban on rosary beads a week after school officials banned them as a symbol of potential gang involvement.

About 75 students, parents and community members attended a school district meeting Wednesday night to discuss the ban, which the district had imposed more than a week earlier. At the time, the district said a Wenatchee police officer had warned school officials that rosary beads worn around the neck could be a symbol of gang activity, particularly among Latino students.

Luis Fernandez, a junior at Chelan High School, was among the students asked to tuck his rosary beads under his shirt and refused.

"I thought that was a dumb reason. They were labeling me as a gangster because I wear a rosary," he said.

The district dropped the ban Monday, as well as bans on other symbols that had been placed on a new list of gang-affiliated clothing, including the owl, the numbers 13, 14 and 18 and several sports jerseys of famous players.

"We need to do a better job of communicating when we make changes," said Tim Berndt, principal at Chelan High School. "I didn't go through all the proper steps of notification."

Hugo Sanchez, a senior, said he researched the rosary as a gang symbol on the Internet and found the same issue had already been decided in Texas, where a school lost a lawsuit for suppressing religious freedom after banning the rosary.

"It's really a big issue for me," said Ali Juarez, a junior. "It's part of my religion. I feel it was never an issue before. It never disturbed class."

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