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[Updated] Unacceptable: Arizona School’s Policy of Shaming Struggling Students Will Only Make Things Worse

This is not how you treat students.

Mingus High School in Arizona publicly shames students missing credits via their ID badges.

[Update: As of January 9th (before this article’s publication—we apologize for the error), the school’s badge system was changed so as to no longer reflect students’ academic standings, and the school has issued an apology. You can read a full article on the policy change here.]

The ACLU recently shared a piece by Jennifer Lansman, whose daughter is being forced to wear a red school ID badge instead of a grey one to shame her for her academic struggles. Students at Cottonwood, Arizona’s Mingus High School wear grey ID badges, but juniors and seniors who are missing credits are forced to wear red badges instead.

Lansman said that her daughter Jordan, and two friends, went to the school board to protest this unfair statement, and in turn, the board revoked the badge for one student with a learning disability. No one else’s badges were changed.

Lansman wrote for the ACLU:

“This badge scheme subjects all students, particularly students with learning disabilities, to ridicule and discrimination. Students with learning disabilities, who may already struggle to keep up, have faced increased pressure in their academic performance knowing that other students will know what their grades are if they are given a ‘scarlet badge.’

“High school is hard enough. Students like my daughter should not be publicly shamed for falling behind academically. Jordan and her classmates head back to Mingus this week for a new semester. If any upperclassmen had difficulty with a class last semester, all their friends will know if they return to class with a ‘scarlet badge.’ Although Mingus has yet to revoke the policy, I’m proud of my daughter and her friends for speaking out against it.

“I know it wasn’t easy, but I hope their activism will inspire other students and parents to stand up against the ‘scarlet badge’ policy.”

This policy is absurd. To force students to publicly show that they’re struggling is deeply unfair, as it will affect the way their other teachers and fellow students treat and see them. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act says that a student’s education records may only be shown to authorized educators. Yet, as Lansman points out in her piece, forcing a student to wear a badge that indicates their academic standing violates the act.

Lansman worries that the badge’s negative impact could lead to further disengagement from classes. There are only a few high schools in the area, so transferring is not an option for the family. The fact that this could lead to students struggling even more due to feeling ostracized or singled out by their badges is incredibly harmful. How can one help a student by publicly shaming them for their grades?

This is no way to help students who need extra attention. It will actively work against its own supposed goal.

“Publicly shaming my child and countless of other students for falling behind academically is wrong,” Lansman writes. “I know how hard my daughter is working to get her grades up, and I know how discouraged she feels when she walks into school every morning with the ‘scarlet badge.’ Yet she knows that every time a teacher or fellow student sees her red badge they think less of her.”

Lansman is right to be enraged. Students should have the right to learn without being publicly called out for their grades, especially if they are struggling. Mingus High School needs to change their policy, before it negatively impacts the psyches of students more so than it already has. We need to support students, not shut them down; the way to do this is through positive help, not reenacting The Scarlet Letter.

(via The ACLU, image: Pexels)

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Kate (she/her) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions she has. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, she is now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for her favorite rare pairs.