In a case that pits individual rights against kids’ safety, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that it was appropriate for school officials to ban students at a San Jose, California, area high school from wearing American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo. The May 5 holiday, popular in the United States but largely unrecognised in Mexico, commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla and celebrates Mexican culture, heritage and pride.
The ruling stems from a controversial incident in 2010 when five students were told by administrators at Live Oak High School (which has a history of racial tension and gang violence) to either turn their American flag T-shirts inside out or go home. In a unanimous decision, the court cited two instances where students had been threatened with violence for wearing the flag. In 2009, some students of Mexican descent told an assistant principal they would “f—- up” other kids who were chanting “USA” around a flag they had hung from a tree on the school campus. The next year, students wearing the flag tees were warned by text messages and phone calls that gang members would come to the school and beat them up. Because only shirts with the American flag were targeted, school officials didn’t ban shirts bearing images of other countries’ flags, including the Mexican flag. In response to the ban, a group of parents sued the district, alleging violation of the teens’ First Amendment rights. The school district has not responded to Yahoo Shine’s request for comment.
The court pointed out that under previous law, it is indeed legal to restrict high school students’ free speech because of safety concerns. The Live Oak dress code also states, “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.” Writing for the panel of three judges, 9th Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown stated, “Our role is not to second-guess the decision to have a Cinco de Mayo celebration or the precautions put in place to avoid violence. (The events) made it reasonable for school officials to proceed as though the threat of a potentially violent disturbance was real.” However, some parents are still threatening to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
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