TWIN FALLS, Idaho – A high school student says he may file a lawsuit against a physical education teacher who took a Mexican flag he had brought for Cinco de Mayo and put it in the garbage.
Clint Straatman denies Froylan Camelo's version of events but said he took the flag Monday because "white kids" might have hurt the 16-year-old. He said he put it in a garbage can because he had no place else to keep it.
Camelo said he was changing into gym clothes at Minico High School in Rupert when Straatman told him, "Give me the flag."
"I said, 'What's the problem?"' Camelo, speaking in Spanish, told The Times-News of Twin Falls. "He said, 'The problem is that we are in the United States and not in Mexico.' He grabbed it from me. He threw the flag in the garbage can."
Camelo said that Straatman told him the flag would be returned at the end of the school day, but that Straatman taunted him instead.
"I asked, 'Where is my flag?"' Camelo said. "He said, 'What, the U.S. flag?' I said, 'No, the one for Mexico.' But he wouldn't give it to me."
Camelo said he then took the undamaged flag out of the garbage. He said he's been contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union and is considering a lawsuit against Straatman.
Camelo and others brought Mexican flags to the south-central Idaho school to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the May 5 recognition of Mexico's victory over the French army on that day in 1862. About a third of the student body is Hispanic.
Straatman denied saying the words Camelo attributed to him, and said the student may have misunderstood him because of his poor English skills. He said he took the flag from Camelo after Camelo had been waving it in the school gym, and denied withholding it later.
"I had to confiscate it so it wouldn't escalate any problems in class," Straatman told The Times-News. "We're worried about that stuff all the time. We always have kids saying stuff to each other, and we have a lot of fights between kids."
Scott Rogers, superintendent of the Minidoka County Joint School District, said an investigation has been started. He said he could not comment specifically about personnel decisions.
"We believe in nondiscriminatory practices and cultural sensitivity," he said. "We train for that and talk about that. If there is a teacher making derogatory comments we don't approve of that. We also don't approve of a student disrupting the classroom."
Rogers said he was at the school early Wednesday and that the school was quiet. He said he noticed a few students wearing clothing in the colors of the Mexican flag — red, white and green — in protest of Monday's incident.