Students walk out of class day after flag shirt incident

May 6, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Morgan Hill Unified School District is doing a lot of apologizing and trying to calm tensions among students and parents. Thursday, dozens of students walked out of Live Oak High School carrying Mexican flags in response to a small group of students who wore American flag t-shirts on Cinco de Mayo while other students were celebrating their Mexican heritage.

The tension at Live Oak High School spilled onto the streets when a crowd of about 60 students walked off campus, many waving Mexican flags.

Parent Mark Muhn literally pushed back with his wheel chair; the confrontation escalated and police stepped in.

"Having the American flag taken down in any sort of way and having the Mexican flag shoved in my face, I didn't appreciate that at all," Muhn said.

The entire incident is a reaction to Wednesday's action by Vice Principal Miguel Rodriguez, who confronted and eventually sent home the five students wearing clothing displaying the American flag on Cinco de Mayo.

Thursday, junior Colton Stephens wore one of the shirts deemed offensive.

"Their only option was to go home or take it off, turn it inside out and defacing it, and they didn't want to do to that because of patriotism to our country," he said.

The students who marched off campus did not view the American flag shirts as patriotic; they viewed it as an in-your-face challenge.

"No offense, yeah this is America, but you know what day it is, you know what you're trying to start, you know what's going on," student Isaac Barrios said.

Many students and parents are equally outraged with Rodriguez and want him fired.

"Bottom line, none of this would have happened if the vice principal would have made a different choice yesterday; the children should have never been sent home for wearing a flag of the country that they live in," parent Jennifer Smith said.

District administrators agree with those sentiments. Thusday, they issued a statement saying in part, the initial decision was made to ensure campus safety but, "students should not and will not be disciplined for wearing patriotic clothing. This matter is under investigation and appropriate action will be taken."

Both sides are making their voices heard and the only agreement seems to be that mistakes were made.

"It's crazy the day you're getting kicked out of school for wearing red white and blue, come on," parent Donnie Croft said.

The students who walked off campus did return to class and there were no other incidents on Thursday.

None of the five students were suspended, but the ACLU says the boys' rights to freedom of speech were violated.

"It was censorship to tell the students not to wear the American flag shirts and those are rights protected by the California education code and both the California and U.S. Constitution," said Julia Harumi Mass from the ACLU.

Live Oak wasn't the only school with Cinco de Mayo controversy. At Pioneer High School in San Jose, 15 students showed up wearing border patrol t-shirts.

"A couple of campus supervisors and teachers saw them and we pulled them into the office and asked them to change their shirts and they did so," says Pioneer High School Principal Sue Walker.

The Pioneer students apologized, calling it an innocent mistake, but at Live Oak the students' intentions are under debate.

"They were just wearing it to show their patriotism for their country," says parent Joy Jones.

"For them to choose American flags on a day just to be insightful, it kinds goes with the personalities of the boys who did it," says parent Shannon Pate.

There are rumors that a large group of students will come to school on Friday dressed in all in white. They are pushing for a peaceful resolution to the heated debate. There will also be a big police presence on campus.

The Morgan Hill Unified School District released the following statement:

Our focus for today was student safety. Students are home safe and administrators are continuing to work through the investigation. Following is a voicemail message that was sent to all of our district parents this evening in English and Spanish:

"Good evening. This is Dr. Wesley Smith, Superintendent of the Morgan Hill Unified School District.

The Morgan Hill Unified School District does not prohibit nor do we discourage wearing patriotic clothing. 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 situation and our response are under review.

We know that this is an emotionally charged topic. We would ask you to encourage your students to be safe and focus on their academics while in school. If conversations and/or activities are necessary to express their feelings on this issue, we will find appropriate venues that do not disturb student learning or jeopardize the safety of our students. Furthermore, we encourage everyone to demonstrate respect for each other, open communication, and responsibility.

Thank you for your support and understanding."


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