Friday, April 07, 2006

School Officials Implement Zero Tolerance Policy On Patriotism

Officials in at least two schools in Colorado and a school district in California have banned students from bringing in flags in an effort to calm emotions surrounding the debate over the country's immigration policies. Parents, students and U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colorado, are criticizing the bans -- which include flags from all countries -- saying they encroach on students' free speech rights while failing to address the increased tensions. The temporary bans were implemented after tens of thousands of students across the country walked out of classes last week amid protests of immigration reforms being debated in Congress. A rally in downtown Denver drew more than 50,000 people on March 25. The Oceanside Unified School District in Oceanside, Calif., closed middle and high schools Thursday and Friday last week because of the protests. Superintendent Kenneth Noonan then temporarily banned flags, as well as signs and clothing deemed disruptive. "He really felt that these items were helping escalate conflict on the campuses," district spokeswoman Laura Chalkley.
More than 50 percent of the northern San Diego County district's 20,426 students are Hispanic, she said. Flags also were banned at Skyline High School in Longmont and at Shaw Heights Middle School in Westminster, where students also can't wear overtly political clothing, camouflaged clothing, banners or bandanas. All schools continue to have flags in classrooms and other areas. Shaw Heights principal Myla Shepherd implemented the flag and clothing ban last week after several incidents, including one in which about 25 students wore camouflaged clothing on one day, said Deb Haviland, director of communications and community relations for Adams County School District 50. The school has 650 students, of which about 46 percent are white and 41 percent are Hispanic. "As the tension increased, (Shepherd) saw that the clothing was starting to be the issue," Haviland said. "The thing that we have to always do is protect our students. Schools do have a right to address things like this in order to protect the safety and non-disruptive behavior in classrooms." Skyline High School Principal Tom Stumpf has said he enacted the flag ban after American flags were brazenly waved in the faces of Hispanic students, and in one case, a Mexican flag was thrown into the face of another student.
A 1969 Supreme Court decision said the First Amendment protects students during school hours if they don't "materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school." Kirsten Golgart, a 14-year-old eighth grader at Shaw Heights, said she was forced to change her camouflaged pants she said she had worn to show support for U.S. troops. She said she was not aware of the policy until then. "They should discipline the kids who were causing problems and not the whole school," Golgart said. "This isn't about race. This is about how they shouldn't be able to take away our rights." Kirsten's father, Eric, has started an online petition to overturn the policy. Tancredo also sent a letter to Shepherd, urging her to reverse what he called an "unpatriotic policy" created out of hyper-political correctness. He said he received a complaint from a relative of a student who was threatened with discipline for wearing red, white and blue clothing. Haviland denied the incident and said students could wear any color combinations they choose. "I believe they should be encouraging all the kids in the school to have respect for the American flag," said the congressman, a vocal opponent of strengthening immigration laws. "They should be teaching children about the need to attach themselves politically and emotionally to this country."