UPDATE: Mingus High has revised their "scarlet badge" policy. The new policy protects students’ private academic information and most importantly, eliminates the public humiliation many upperclassmen, like Jordan, experienced when they had to display their academic achievement to the entire school.  Mingus will issue a universal ID for all students, regardless of academic achievement. Read Mingus' new badge policy here.

When Jordan Pickett met with her new teachers at the start of a new semester, she already felt dismissed. Jordan, a Junior at Mingus High School in Cottonwood, Arizona, was forced to meet her teachers while wearing her red school identification card. Jordan’s teachers and fellow students know what the “scarlet badge” means – any Junior or Senior student with missing credits are given red ID’s to wear. Jordan felt that her teachers immediately made up their minds about what kind of student she was once they saw her ID.

What Mingus High School is doing to its students is wrong—and it is a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In 1974, FERPA was signed into law to protect the privacy of student education records, such as report cards, transcripts, disciplinary records, contact and family information, and class schedules. Under FERPA, public schools may only disclose those records with consent, and only under certain conditions.

By forcing upperclassmen to wear an ID that publicly displays their private academic information, Mingus is violating FERPA regulations. FERPA allows for authorized officials, such as teachers, to view student educational records. Fellow students are not authorized officials. Yet, the ID scheme at Mingus allows students to view their classmates’ grades by prominently displaying them on their IDs.

This system subjects all students, particularly students with learning disabilities, to ridicule and harassment. Students with learning disabilities have faced increased pressure in their academic performance knowing that other students will know their grades when they are forced to walk around with a “scarlet badge.” 

Students like Jordan should not be forced to wear a “scarlet badge” for not having certain credit hours. Mingus should dissolve this identification card system not only to comply with FERPA regulations but to prevent other students from feeling marginalized and excluded like Jordan does. All students should attend school without being branded or bullied by students, teachers, and administrators. Mingus’ “scarlet badge” has resulted in increased bullying, discrimination, and disengagement from school by underperforming students—and along with Jordan, we will fight to make sure that it’s removed for good.

If you believe that your students school has violated FERPA violations, file a complaint with the Department of Education or contact Demand to Learn at demandtolearn@acluaz.org.