Reporting Jamie Yuccas
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A 15-year-old Coon Rapids student says he wears a rosary as a necklace to feel close to his grandmother, who is suffering from breast cancer. But the Anoka-Hennepin School District told him to take the rosary off – or face the consequences.
Jake Balthazor says he prays for his grandmother’s health.
“She has breast cancer, and I’m trying to support her for it,” he said.
He wears his beliefs proudly. The rosary is one his grandmother gave him, but it’s also what landed him in the principal’s office.
“They think it’s like a gang sign,” Balthazor said.
A district spokesperson said the school asked Balthazor not to wear the rosary as a necklace again, saying policy forbids it.
The district’s student discipline policy forbids “any apparel, jewelry, accessories, or matter of grooming which by virtue of its color arrangement, trademark, or any other attribute (as a primary purpose) denotes membership in an organized gang.”
Balthazor’s family finds the school’s stance baffling.
“I don’t know how anything with the church can be affiliated with a gang,” said Balthazor’s father, Dave Thompson. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Balthazor’s rosary wearing might also not make sense to many Catholics. He wears the rosary as a necklace, which is unusual. Moreover, Balthazor isn’t Catholic, he’s Lutheran; but those close to the family say they understand why he wears it.
“The rosary brings people closer to Christ,” said Bob Balk, who owns St. George Catholic Books and Gifts with his wife, Sharon.
“It represents faith on her part and his,” Sharon Balk said.
Balthazor’s grandmother goes in for surgery Thursday.
“His opinion is: If he’s wearing it, Grandma’s going to be OK,” Thompson said.
Balthazor said he plans to wear his rosary to school Thursday, but says if he’s asked to take it off, he’ll put it in his pocket.
UPDATE: The communications director for the Anoka-Hennepin School District, Mary Olson, said they were unaware that Balthazor wore the rosary to honor his grandmother. Olson also shared a letter they received last month from the police liaison about rosaries being used as gang signs. The letter states, “A new issue came up recently that is interesting regarding rosary beads. Some gangs do use them as clothing symbols. The gangs identified around here that have been using them are the Latin Kings and the Surenos.” Olson said she understands that Balthazor did wear the rosary to school on Thursday and is currently in finals. She said the school plans to talk with him to try and work out a compromise.