Schools ban flags as immigration debate gets tense
April 4, 2006

Anglos, Latinos in confrontations in Colo., Ariz., Calif.
By Tom Kenworthy

DENVER - Several schools in Colorado, Arizona and California recently banned the display of national flags and the wearing of clothing with patriotic symbols as the divisive national debate over immigration has brought angry confrontations between Latino and Anglo students.

The bans have prompted protests by parents, stirred local debates over free speech and its limits, and caught the attention of civil liberties advocates.

In Westminster, Colo., tensions between middle school students wearing camouflage clothing to show support for troops in Iraq and others wearing bandanas patterned after the Mexican flag triggered an order amending the school's dress code.

"Some clothing worn by some of our students has created a tense and sometimes hostile environment in our school over the past few days," Shaw Heights Middle School Principal Myla Shepherd wrote in a letter to parents. She banned "clothing that makes a political statement," camouflage clothes and "banners, flags, bandanas of all types" at the suburban Denver school.

The dress code "is temporary and will be continually evaluated," said Deb Haviland, spokeswoman for the Adams County school district, which includes Westminster.

In Longmont, Colo., about 25 miles north of Denver, the principal of Skyline High School last week banned temporarily the display of Mexican and U.S. flags by students. Principal Tom Stumpf said some students used the U.S. flag to express hostility to Hispanic students by waving it in their faces.

Longmont schools are on spring break this week, and Stumpf did not respond to messages left at the school.

In Apache Junction, Ariz., the superintendent banned the display of flags on clothing following a dispute between students at Apache Junction High School over flying the U.S. and Mexican flags from a school flagpole. Within hours of issuing the ban on Friday, he relented after protests by parents.

"There's a lot of tension with the immigration issue going on, but this transcends that issue," said Mike Burk, who protested the short-lived ban at the school attended by one of his sons. "You don't handle it by banning the American flag."

Carol Shepherd, spokeswoman for the Apache Junction schools, said, "After listening to the community and the students, (Superintendent Greg Wyman) reviewed the situation and decided to revise the ruling and allow flags to be worn with the caveat that . anyone using them to incite other students would be subject to discipline."

In Oceanside, Calif., superintendent Kenneth Noonan closed middle and high schools last Thursday following a walkout by 650 students over immigration legislation in Congress. In a letter to parents, he barred students from wearing "items that could be disruptive" and banned flags, placards and signs on school grounds.

"It's a temporary ban," said Oceanside schools spokeswoman Laura Chalkley.

Kevin Keenan, head of the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego, said in a statement posted on the group's website that school officials should "insure protection for those activities protected by the First Amendment."