Five Live Oak High School students’ First Amendment rights were challenged Wednesday 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 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.”
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.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Dominic’s mother Julie Fagerstrom. “I’m an open-minded parent, but it’s got to be on both sides. It can’t be five kids singled out.”
A front-desk secretary said Boden was unavailable for any comment on what had happened Wednesday and Rodriguez was busy with testing, the secretary said.
More than 100 students were spotted wearing red, white and green as they were leaving school. Some had the Mexican flag painted on their faces or on their arms.
Nothing in Live Oak’s dress code policy addresses what transpired Wednesday, but it does state that “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.”
One Mexican-American student, freshman Laura Ponce, had a Mexican flag painted on her face and chest, peaking out of her low-cut shirt. She did it because, “it’s our day, the only day we can show our spirit.” A school administrator took away the Mexican flag she was carrying as she was waiting to go home. Ponce said: “not cool.”
“There was a lot of drama going on today,” Ponce said. Some were saying “Mexico sucks” while Mexican-American students responded in their second language.
“Some were yelling Spanish to us,” Maciel said, who is half-Hispanic. “I couldn’t understand it, but it sounded bad.”
Some Mexican-American students said that their flags were taken away or asked to be put away, but none were sent home for wearing red, white and green. Since Boden would not comment, it’s uncertain if any other students were sent home for what they were wearing on Cinco de Mayo.
Live Oak High School even hosted a group of professional baile folklorico dancers, who waved flags and played traditional music from Mexico.
“It’s sad it’s come to this,” Fagerstrom said. “But we stand behind their patriotic nature and the boys expressing their individuality.”
The boys wrote a two-paragraph statement that they each signed detailing their support for American patriotism and that they felt disrespected and discriminated against when their First Amendment rights were discarded Wednesday at school.
“We were not going to start a fight. We wanted to show our pride,” Dariano said.