They most clearly must not have -- or they are utterly incompetent to hold their jobs -- not if they truly believed that their outrageous actions in this care were in any way permissible under the laws and Constitution of the United States.
Five Live Oak High School students' First Amendment rights were challenged this morning when they were asked to leave school because they donned American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo. Officials at the school chose not to comment on the situation, but one student said an official called the T-shirts "incendiary."
"They said we were starting a fight, we were fuel to the fire," said sophomore Matt Dariano.
* * *
The five teens were sitting at a table outside during their brunch break about 10:10 a.m. when Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez asked two boys to take off their American flag bandannas. The boys said they complied. In the same conversation, sophomore Dominic Maciel said, Rodriguez told the group to "walk with him to the office."
Dariano called his mother Diana, who spread the word to the other parents, who all arrived soon after to have a conference with Rodriguez and Principal Nick Boden. The group said they were not instigating anything and did what they always do at break - sit and talk and eat.
The boys were told they must turn their T-shirts inside-out or be sent home - and that it would not be considered a suspension - but that Rodriguez did not want any fights to break out among Mexican-American students and those wearing American flags. Dariano said other students were wearing American flags but since they were a group of five "we were the easiest target to cause trouble" according to Rodriguez, he said.
The boys told Rodriguez and Boden that turning their T-shirts inside-out was disrespectful, so their parents opted to take them home.
According to one comment on the article that appeared on the website of the local paper, there appears to have an ongoing problem with American patriotic expression by non-Mexicans in the school district Ė apparently over the last couple of years campus administrators have had students punished for wearing/displaying American flags on May 5.
I don't know why so many people seem surprised that an assistant principal has so much authority. The assistant principal at Gilroy High School, Arturo Rodriguez, had the authority to suspend my son, Josh Brendle as well. My son had had 2 American Flags on his truck on cinco de mayo. For this reason he got suspended for one week. This happened 2 years ago. My son didn't attend school that day, but he went to pick up his brother after school and still got suspended. Mr. Maxwell, the principal at the time, supported Rodriguez's decision. Yet no students that had the Mexican flag on their cars were suspended.
Rodriguez even had the audacity to insinuate that my son was racist. What an insult. I was livid. Most of his son's friends are hispanic. Rodriguez tried to take my son's parking privileges away as well. I had a meeting with Maxwell, but that was a waste of time. He still defended Rodriguez. However, Maxwell didn't allow my son's parking privileges to be taken away. Rodriguez didn't stop there.
We are a very patriot family. My husband is a Gulf War vet. My son is going in the Marines. My son use to drive around often with an American Flag on his truck. So this wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Any given day he would have the American Flag on his truck, not just cinco de mayo.
I then filed a grievance with the Gilroy Unified School District. After approximately 7 months I got an apology letter from them. However, they didn't come right out and specifically say what they were apologizing for.
I contacted the NAACP and they didn't want anything to do with it. I thought they defended American people's rights. Not in this case.
I know of another student from GHS that got suspended, because he had an American Flag on his backpack. He was told to remove the American Flag from his backpack. His parents fought this issue as well and got pretty much nowhere as well. I believe they got an apology.
We do live in America. Let's take back our country. GOD BLESS AMERICA!
The difference this year is that it appears that shining some light on the situation may have forced the district to back away from the misdeeds of these misguided mal-administrators.
The Morgan Hill Unified School District issued this statement: "In an attempt to foster a spirit of cultural awareness and maintain a safe and supportive school environment, the Live Oak High School administration took certain actions earlier today. The district does not concur with the Live Oak High School administration's interpretation of either board or district policy related to these actions."
What needs to happen now is that the district needs to discipline Ė harshly Ė the two campus administrators involved in this clear violation of student rights, and retrain school staff so that they will respect the civil liberties of ALL students. Especially since, as Eugene Volokh points out, even if a case can be made that the speech can be banned under Tinker (and that would be a pretty weak one), California has statutory law that would protect the right of the kids to wear these shirts.
However, we as Americans need to make something really clear Ė the display of the American flag is ALWAYS appropriate in this country, regardless of the day and regardless of the feelings of some hyphenated Americans who place ethnic and racial solidarity above love of country. Those offended by such patriotic displays can simply suck it up, as they have no right to stop the display of patriotic speech by Americans who love this country.
Unfortunately, there are anti-American commentators who want to argue that the school is right, that the wearing of an American flag is a provocation that ought to be punished.
What school principal wouldnít have done the same thing? Donít they have a responsibility to maintain order in school? And if so, isnít it blindingly obvious that they need to take action when students do things that are designed to create conflict and bad feelings?
Clearly that clown has his pony-tail pulled so tight that he has cut circulation off to his brain. Even if we presume that the speech in question was designed to be provocative, how can a school legitimately ban the expression of pride in America on a day that it encourages the expression of pride in the immigrant heritage of one particular ethnic group? And is not one purpose of the exercise of the rights under the First Amendment to provoke discussion and thought? Whatís more, if the administrators of an American school cannot protect the exercise of American rights by American students as they passively display the American flag, have we not reached the point that those administrators need to be removed and replaced with a new administration capable of keeping order on the campus and protecting the civil liberties of all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin?
Now I teach in a school that is overwhelmingly Hispanic. I have periods in which I am the only white face in the room, and the most non-Hispanic students I have in any period is 3. Very few of my students marked the day yesterday -- and when I brought this story up in my pre-AP class this morning (they finished my quiz early, and this is a social studies topic), many found the school's decision absurd. A couple, though, sided with the school, and argued that May 5 was "our day, and if you wear another flag you oughta get jumped." A classmate, who is Salvadoran, looked at his buddy and inquired if that meant that he should be jumped if he showed up with the flag of El Salvador on his shirt. The response was "No -- you're Hispanic like us, so its cool." And from the back of the room came a soft, gentle comment only slightly above whisper level that cut through the conversation like a chainsaw through tissue paper -- "So you mean that since I'm black, I didn't have any rights yesterday? Sounds really racist to me." And the first boy looked at the other, the guy who lined up next to him on the football field all season, and then hung his head, saying "I didn't think of it like that."
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote some pretty intense words about the right to free speech in relationship to the religious taboos of Islam, and how there is no right to not be offended in regards to one's religious sensitivities. Let me extend that point now -- nobody, of any race, ethnicity, or national origin, has the right to not be offended by the speech of members of other groups that treads upon their sensitivities. I'll concede that May 5 may be a special day for you when you express your pride in your ancestry, but you have no right to demand that others hold their tongues on that day. They cause you no harm whatsoever by the display of their flag or symbol. They take no property that belongs to you, they inflict no physical harm upon you, they interfere with no right that you have to express your pride. They simply express pride in something else -- their ethnicity and their national pride -- and you have no right to stop or interfere with that expression on what my student described as ""our day" any more than they have the right to suppress yours on May 5 or any other day of the year.