- Associated Press - Sunday, June 20, 2010

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. | A Rhode Island boy whose school banned a hat he made because the toy soldiers on it carried tiny guns was awarded a medal on Friday for his patriotic efforts.

Lt. Gen. Reginald Centracchio, the retired head of the Rhode Island National Guard, gave 8-year-old David Morales a medal called a challenge coin during an appearance on WPRO-AM’s John DePetro show.

Gen. Centracchio said the second-grader should be thanked for recognizing veterans and soldiers.

“You did nothing wrong, and you did an outstanding job,” he said. “We can only hope that kids of your caliber will continue to defend this country.”

Gen. Centracchio also gave David a certificate that allows him to call himself a brigadier general.

David was assigned to make a hat last week for a project at the Tiogue School in Coventry. He chose a patriotic theme and glued plastic Army figures to a camouflage baseball cap. But school officials said the hat ran afoul of their no-weapons policy because the Army men held tiny guns.

The school has said David was offered the chance to wear the hat if he replaced the toy soldiers holding weapons with ones that didn’t have any. Gen. Centracchio said that didn’t make sense because soldiers are armed, and met with school administrators Thursday to share his concerns.

David said he felt great and called it an honor.

“I think it’s really special,” he said. “I’m going to definitely enjoy this day for a long time.”

Also Friday, the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said it sent a letter to Coventry Superintendent Kenneth DiPietro saying the school’s policy was an unconstitutional violation of students’ free speech. It called on the district to revise the policy.

Mr. DiPietro did not return a message seeking comment.