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May 7th, 2010
Kids That Wear Flags Don't Back Down

Four teens sent home for wearing red, white and blue on Cinco de Mayo have become the focus of national media attention as their story went viral after Live Oak High School officials asked the students to turn their American flag T-shirts inside-out to quell any confrontations.

 A firestorm of outrage erupted online and moved to the streets when about 200 Hispanic students walked out of Live Oak and Ann Sobrato high schools to march through Morgan Hill demonstrating their support for Mexico.

"It's disrespectful to do it on Cinco de Mayo," said Jessica Cortez, a Live Oak sophomore. "They can be a patriot on some other day. Not that specific day."

Hispanic students felt that students wearing American flags were disrespecting the Mexican-American students on Cinco de Mayo - the only day that they celebrate their Mexican heritage.

Students who sported red, white and blue said denying them the right to wear American colors is a violation of the First Amendment. 

The blowback started after Live Oak students Daniel Galli, Dominic Maciel, Matt Dariano and Austin Carvalho wore red, white and blue T-shirts - some with the American flag and some with flag shorts - were asked to change their clothing or turn their T-shirts inside-out because it could incite a confrontation. The four refused and their parents were called into a conference with Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez and Principal Nick Boden who sent the students home with an unexcused absence, not suspension.

"I just couldn't believe it," said Dominic's mother Julie Fagerstrom Wednesday. "I'm an open-minded parent, but it's got to be on both sides. It can't be five kids singled out."

In a statement, Smith wrote: "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."

Uncle Sam even set foot onto Live Oak campus Thursday in the form of John Messina, a San Jose resident, who said he was so enraged that he drove 30 minutes to Morgan Hill to protest before school started. He held a sign that read "Patriotism is not a crime" on one side and "Support the 1st amendment fire Rodriguez" on the back.

"I'm terribly upset that these patriotic students were sent home," said Messina, who was inundated with car honks and the occasional yelling from a driver. "I wanted to make a statement. This is absolutely wrong."

"That is their constitutional right to wear the shirt," Collier said. "I think the school missed a golden opportunity here and missed having a dialogue between the students and have them talk it out."

William J. Becker Jr., a First Amendment attorney based in Los Angeles, said the students' First Amendment rights were absolutely violated when administrators asked that they remove their T-shirts.

"The student wearing the Old Navy T-shirt with the flag does not shed their First Amendment rights at the school house gates," Becker said.

Administrators cannot ask students to relinquish their freedom of speech and expression due to the fear that something might happen. When a person's right to freedom of speech or expression is restricted to prevent another party from reacting, it's known as the heckler's veto. Becker said this is a perfect example of how heckler's veto was used to displace the students' freedom of speech.

"Every viewpoint has a particular averse viewpoint," Becker said. "That's why the First Amendment is there - to support unpopular expression."

A parent of two Live Oak students, Teresa Casillas, said the American-flag wearing students were yelling "We live in America!" at the brunch break Wednesday. She said her children were upset by their behavior at school, calling it disrespectful.  "It's just because it was on their day," Maciel said.

"We're all offended by it," Casillas said. She said parents of all ethnicities she spoke with felt that way. "Morgan Hill is too small of a community to start any racial wars. This is just bringing it out a little bit more."
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."

Administrators at Live Oak were silent on the issue and would not interview with any news outlet on the matter. School board members declined to comment.
 


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