Flag controversy sparks protests on Cinco de Mayo in Morgan Hill

An American flag controversy that began at Live Oak High school in Morgan Hill four years ago sparked rallies on Cinco de Mayo.
May 5, 2014 5:39:11 PM PDT
Nearly three dozen people held American flags outside a South Bay high school Monday because of a controversial event that happened four years ago. The flag display was a silent protest. It has to do with a federal court decision and students who are not allowed to wear American flags on Cinco de Mayo.

People have different points of view. And those opposing views were expressed in different ways Monday. One rally was centered on diversity and unity, while two earlier ones focused on the American flag and patriotism.

Long before students showed up for class, adults were outside to make a point. They stand by the flag.

Four years ago, four students were told to cover up the American flags on their t-shirts because it was Cinco de Mayo. It led to a lawsuit, and an appellate court decision in February that backed school administrators.

However, student leaders told the district they'd rather focus on preparing for advanced placement exam.

"They want to make it a regular day," said Morgan Hill Unified School District Superintendent Steve Betando. "The students have expressed that they don't like the outside attention, and we're trying to help them with that."

And the Gilroy-Morgan Hill Patriots, organizing Monday morning's quiet rally, went along.

"We didn't bring signs, we didn't bring anything with words on it, we were just silent," said the group's president, Georgine Scott-Codiga. "And we're leaving right now, as soon as we're done with this because we did it before school, so we're not disrupting the school."

But one man, whose son Daniel Galli was one of the four students involved in the flag t-shirt controversy, was there to spread a message of diversity and respect. Kendall Jones talked to ABC7 News as he assembled a sign post.

"We are a nation of many races, many religions, and many creeds," said Jones. "And be proud of that fact. A nation of immigrants. But do not make this thing a race issue of us versus them because that's not what it was. It's that's not what it is at all."

Galli is now a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, and is an Army reservist.

His mother, Joy Jones, tells ABC7 News that despite the elapsed time, they're still ready to appeal the case to the Ninth Circuit.

"He was accused of being a troublemaker wanting to start trouble and not being part of the unity by wearing an American flag and now he's out there defending the flag," she said. "And that's what it's about for these kids, pride in their country."

Galli wants to be a military lawyer, a career choice his mother says was directly inspired by the flag controversy.

A band of motorcyclists also gathered Monday to ride over to the school with flags. Most are veterans -- members of the American Legion and Patriot Guard.

"We feel that it's wrong to tell one group it's okay to do this and then tell the other group that you can't wear yours, you know?" said veteran Bill Roller. "So we're here primarily for the First Amendment of the Constitution."

Organizers of a gathering planned for Monday night at a community park are calling for unity, respect, and peace.

Live Oak students created some banners and placed them on the temporary fence surrounding the campus.

One is a picture of an oak, showing the roots of the tree. Another says "United at the Roots." And the third one says, "We are all different branches of the same tree."

Students also created a video and posted it on the school district's YouTube and Facebook pages.

It shows students visiting classrooms to talk about the incident four years ago and respecting different cultures.

Many of them have grown tired of the attention and controversy.

"What I think the teachable moment for them is for us adults to listen to the kids about wanting to respect and accept one another, accept each other's' ideals and understand other people can have opinions and people can disagree with one another and still get along," Superintendent Betando said.


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