Flagging Controversy

Dave Kitchell, Pharos-Tribune (Logansport, IN), May 9, 2006

Several Logansport parents pledged their allegiance to their high school sons and daughters Monday night and criticized a Logansport High School administrative decision to ban flags from any nation last Friday on the school campus.

While some said the ban on the American flag at the school and asking students to turn patriotic apparel inside out was a “slap in the face” to veterans and American troops, Logansport High School Principal Dr. Terry Sargent defended administrative decisions he said were made in the best interest of the students for their own protection.

The controversy capped a week that began May 1 when 174 of 225 Hispanic students at the school were excused to participate in a national demonstration for immigration rights. Last Friday was Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday depicting victory over the French in the 1862 Battle of Pueblo. School officials had decided in advance to ask students not to bring flags from any nation to school Friday, but some students did. Thirteen students out of nearly 1,300 left and returned home after a demonstration in front of the school entrance was broken up by school officials, Sargent said.

The one-day flag ban led Logansport VFW Post Commander Mike Sims to speak before the school board at its Monday night meeting. Sims appeared with his American Legion hat, wearing a shirt emblazoned with images of the stars and stripes. He said he was asked by many veterans and taxpayers to speak to the board.

“The decision to ban all flags in school, even only for one day, was a slap in the face to those who have served, and are now serving in the armed forces. The American flag may be displayed anyplace in the United States, especially any facility funded through taxpayer revenue,” Sims said before being applauded by school patrons.

Sims said the immigration debate spilled over into Logansport, but led school officials to make a hasty decision when they banned the national symbol in the school.

Sims said he respects the Mexican holiday, but Hispanics must respect the American flag.

“If they are in the United States legally, our flag is now their flag.”

Sims said the American Legion does not condone the draping of the flag on cars or dragging it on the ground.

Sargent, who was not at school Friday because he was asked to recruit new teachers graduating from Indiana State, said in a statement to the board that students were never asked not to wear patriotic clothing, but they were asked at one point to turn patriotic clothing inside out before later being told they could wear their clothing right-side out.

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CASTRO VALLEY—Racial tensions came to a boil at Castro Valley High today between students displaying Mexican and American flags, having simmered since May 1’s “Day Without Immigrants” protests.

While students on both sides—largely divided between Latinos and whites—and administrators disagree on whether race is what originally sparked the bad feelings, there’s no uncertainty it’s now all about race.

“This is out of control,” said freshmen Allie Levy as she and a friend were picked up by a parent during lunch. They were leaving early because they feared for their safety.

During today’s lunchtime demonstrations, dozens of students grouped with those holding Mexican flags, and one flag from El Salvador. A slightly smaller group carrying U.S. flags was nearby. There were about 200 students altogether.

Though the groups stayed away from each other physically, there were heated exchanges at times, overseen by several Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies on foot, on motorcycle and in patrol cars.

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Monday, the school asked students on both sides not to bring flags, she said. Some students were called into the office over the displays, but no one had been suspended by this afternoon.

But students bearing the American flag outside the school during lunch today said the administration has cracked down on only on those with American flags, with actions including suspensions. Their motivation, they said, is freedom of expression.

“It’s mainly about my rights as a patriot,” said junior Brett Pellaton, whose pickup truck had two flags flying from the back.

However, race has become an issue.

Rex Van Porst, a junior who stood with students bearing Mexican flags, held a homemade sign reading “Peace.” He said he and his friends have endured racially derogatory remarks.

“If you want to show your patriotism, that’s fine,” said Van Porst, who is half white and Latino. “But I’ve had some say to me ‘forget you,’ forget your heritage.’ There was profanity.”

Students with the American flags agreed, but blamed the other side.

“They’ve called me a hick, even though I’m not a hick,” said Bowen Weist, a junior.

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