California Students Sent Home for Wearing U.S. Flags on Cinco de Mayo
Administrators at a California high school sent five students home on Wednesday after they refused to remove their American flag T-shirts and bandannas -- garments the school officials deemed "incendiary" on Cinco de Mayo.
The five teens were sitting at a table outside Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, Calif., on Wednesday morning when Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez asked two of them to remove their American flag bandannas, one of their parents told FoxNews.com. The boys complied, but were asked to accompany Rodriguez to the principal's office.
The five students -- Daniel Galli, Austin Carvalho, Matt Dariano, Dominic Maciel and Clayton Howard -- were then told they must turn their T-shirts inside-out or be sent home, though it would not be considered a suspension. Rodriguez told the students he did not want any fights to break out between Mexican-American students celebrating their heritage and those wearing American flags.
Dariano's mother, Diana, told FoxNews.com she and parents of the other four students are now demanding an apology from officials and are considering a lawsuit.
"We want an apology," Diana Dariano said Thursday. "Who in the United States of America would have an issue with that? It's a sad, sad day."
Dariano said her son has at least four T-shirts with American flags that he wears often and did not try to cause any conflict at school.
"I'm more hurt than anything," she said. "It is so hurtful and disrespectful the way this has turned. These are American kids."
The boys told Rodriguez and Principal Nick Boden that turning their shirts inside-out was disrespectful, so their parents decided to take them home.
"I just couldn't believe it," Julie Fagerstrom, Maciel's mother, told the Morgan Hill Times. "I'm an open-minded parent, but it's got to be on both sides. It can't be five kids singled out."
Galli told NBC Bay Area, "They said we could wear it on any other day, but today is sensitive to Mexican-Americans because it's supposed to be their holiday so we were not allowed to wear it."
In a statement released Thursday, Morgan Hill Unified School District Superintendent Wesley Smith characterized the incident as "extremely unfortunate" and said the matter is under investigation.
"The Morgan Hill Unified School District does not prohibit nor do we discourage wearing patriotic clothing," Smith's statement read. "The incident on May 5 at Live Oak High School is extremely unfortunate. While campus safety is our primary concern and administrators made decisions yesterday in an attempt to ensure campus safety, students should not, and will not, be disciplined for wearing patriotic clothing. This matter is under investigation and appropriate action will be taken."
Officials at Live Oak High School did not return several messages seeking comment on Thursday. A secretary told the Morgan Hill Times that Boden and Rodriguez were unavailable for comment on Wednesday.
According to its website, Live Oak High School is a 1,300-student institution in the southern part of Santa Clara County, with most students residing in the nearby cities of Morgan Hill and San Jose.
"The student population reflects the rich ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of the community," the website reads.
More than 100 students were spotted wearing the colors of the Mexican flag -- red, white and green -- as they left school, including some who had the flag painted on their faces or arms, the Morgan Hill times reported.
While bandannas of any color are banned at the school, its dress code policy does not contain references to American flags.
"However, any clothing or decoration which detracts from the learning environment is prohibited," the policy reads. "The school has the right to request that any student dressing inappropriately for school will change into other clothes, be sent home to change, and/or be subject to disciplinary action."
Freshman Laura Ponce, who had a Mexican flag painted on her face and chest, told the Morgan Hill Times that Cinco de Mayo is the "only day" Mexican-American students can show their national pride.
"There was a lot of drama going on today," Ponce told the newspaper.
Some other Mexican-American students reportedly said their flags were taken away or asked to be put away, but no other students were sent home on Wednesday.
Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at the University of California-Los Angeles, said the students are protected under California Education Code 48950, which prohibits schools from enforcing a rule subjecting a high school student to disciplinary sanctions solely on the basis of conduct, that when engaged outside of campus, is protected by the First Amendment.
If the school could point to previous incidents sparked by students who wore garments with American flags, they could argue that the flag is likely to lead to "substantial disruption," Volokh said.
"If, for example, there had been fights over similar things at past events, if there had been specific threats made," he said. "But if [school officials] just say, 'Well, we think it might be offensive to people,' that's generally speaking not enough."
Volokh said the students and their parents likely have a winning case on their hands if they decide to take the matter to court.
"Oh yes, it's almost open and shut," he said.
Lis Wiehl, a former federal prosecutor and a Fox News legal analyst, said the incident appears to a "blatant" violation of the students' First Amendment right to free speech. She noted that inciting violence is an exception to a First Amendment legal defense, but Wiehl said she saw no indications that the students provoked anyone.
"Unless I'm missing something, this seems like a blatant violation of the First Amendment," said Wiehl, adding that uniforms are not required at the public school. "And they're wearing, of all horrific things, the American flag."
California Principal Apologizes for Forbidding U.S. Flag Shirts on Mexican Holiday
A California high school principal has apologized for telling five students they couldn't wear U.S. flag shirts on Cinco de Mayo, the local superintendent said Friday.
Tensions at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill had risen in the wake of the decision to forbid the shirts, as the students who wore the shirts defended their right to show their patriotism -- even on a Mexican holiday -- while a large group of Hispanic students staged a walkout Thursday in protest.
"This has certainly been a very difficult time for our school district," Superintendent Wesley Smith said in prepared remarks delivered Friday at a news conference.
Smith affirmed that students are free to wear patriotic clothing on campus, but the campus also must be kept "orderly and safe."
"School leaders have to make judgment calls on when to take preventative measures to pre-empt a possible incident or conflict," Smith said. "In this situation, it appears that a decision was made too quickly."
The five teens were sitting at a table outside the school Wednesday morning when Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez asked two of them to remove their American flag bandannas, one of the boys' parents told FoxNews.com. The youths complied, but were asked to accompany Rodriguez to the principal's office.
The students were then told they must turn their T-shirts inside-out or be sent home, though it would not be considered a suspension. Rodriguez told the students he did not want any fights to break out between Mexican-American students celebrating their heritage and those wearing American flags, the parent said.
One of the parents told FoxNews.com that the preemptive action was unnecessary, and that Rodriguez "overstepped his bounds."
Superintendent Smith described freedom of expression as "a sacred American value" and said the lesson learned is that it should be celebrated "thoughtfully and fairly."
"It is unfortunate that some people want to leverage their personal agendas off of this incident," Smith said, noting the national media attention on the school.
"Most of the kids on our campus have said, 'Enough is enough.' they want to get back to normal."
Morgan Hill Police Department Cmdr. Joe Sampson said two officers were stationed at Live Oak High School school midday Friday to give a "visual presence" in order to thwart any potential acts of violence.
"We want to give them peace of mind should they need us," Sampson told Fox News.
Sampson confirmed that no arrests were made during a walkout at the school on Thursday.
More than 200 Hispanic students reportedly skipped class on Thursday and marched to school district headquarters while chanting "we want respect" and "si se puede" -- "yes we can," the Morgan Hill Times reported.
"We did this to support the Latino/Hispanic community," Francine Roa, a 2005 Live Oak High School graduate, told the newspaper.
This is absolutely ridiculous, those students should not have gotten into trouble for wearing an American shirt in AMERICA. Are you offing kidding me!? Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, if you’re of Mexican decent then celebrate yourself, whatever, but those who aren’t and who don’t give a crap don’t have to celebrate it in the United States. To me May 5th has always just been May 5th, another day in my life as it is to most people. Other countries don’t celebrate the 4th of July for Americans, and they shouldn't, they aren’t American. The principal (anyone notice what his last name is btw, just saying) said he didn’t want fights to break out and that it was disrespectful to the mexican students. What he did was disrespectful to the American flag, everything it stands for and this country.The principle is WAY out of line and an asinine idiot and he better have damn well apologized. I would be bringing a lawsuit against him, the school/school district so fast it would make their heads spin. And what about the 200 Mexican students who skipped school to protest for respect or whatever the hell they were getting at, were they reprimanded for their illegal school absences, like the other boys with the American shirts were? I highly doubt it. There is no possible way for a kid to wear a shirt with the American flag on, regardless of the day, and it be disrespectful, he’s in the freaking United States. I am amazed at the stupidity of people, I can’t even fathom on what level that principal thought he was being intelligent. I am so glad the boys refused to take off their American flag shirts or flip them inside out, they are patriotic and I would have done the same thing. I'm glad they stood up for their country. (The kicker is, two of those boys are actually of Mexican decent. But they are Americans and clearly you can see where their loyalty lies).