A California court ruled Thursday that administrators at a Northern California high school acted appropriately when they made students wearing American flag shirts turn the shirts inside out during a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the school administration's duty to prevent student violence outweighed the students freedom of expression rights. The school involved, Live Oak High School in San Jose, has a history of fighting between white and latino students on Cinco de Mayo. Administrators feared the students' American flag shirts would spark a conflict at the school.
A three judge panel was unanimous in their ruling. The judges said schools have a long leash when it comes to measures they can take to prevent student violence.
“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," Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote. Judge McKeown said past problems at the school "made it reasonable for school officials to proceed as though the threat of a potentially violent disturbance was real.”
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The case dates back to 2010. On May 5, 2010, administrators asked students wearing American flag shirts to turn their shirts inside out. The students refused and filed a civil lawsuit against the school. Court documents show the incident took place amid "ongoing racial tension and gang violence within the school, and after a near-violent altercation had erupted during the prior Cinco de Mayo over the display of an American flag."
During the previous year’s Cinco de Mayo celebration, a group of students carrying a Mexican flag narrowly avoided brawling with students who’d hung an American flag from a tree. The groups exchanged threats that were serious enough for parents to keep their teenagers out of school for the next several days.
William Becker, a lawyer representing the students, says he plans to ask an 11-judge panel to rehear the case.
"The 9th Circuit upheld the rights of Mexican students celebrating a holiday of another country over U.S. student proudly supporting this country," Becker said.