Published May 07, 2010
A California high school principal has apologized for telling five students they couldn't wear U.S. flag shirts on Cinco de Mayo, the local superintendent said Friday.
Tensions at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill had risen in the wake of the decision to forbid the shirts, as the students who wore the shirts defended their right to show their patriotism -- even on a Mexican holiday -- while a large group of Hispanic students staged a walkout Thursday in protest.
"This has certainly been a very difficult time for our school district," Superintendent Wesley Smith said in prepared remarks delivered Friday at a news conference.
Smith affirmed that students are free to wear patriotic clothing on campus, but the campus also must be kept "orderly and safe."
"School leaders have to make judgment calls on when to take preventative measures to pre-empt a possible incident or conflict," Smith said. "In this situation, it appears that a decision was made too quickly."
The five teens were sitting at a table outside the school Wednesday morning when Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez asked two of them to remove their American flag bandannas, one of the boys' parents told FoxNews.com. The youths complied, but were asked to accompany Rodriguez to the principal's office.
The students were then told they must turn their T-shirts inside-out or be sent home, though it would not be considered a suspension. Rodriguez told the students he did not want any fights to break out between Mexican-American students celebrating their heritage and those wearing American flags, the parent said.
One of the parents told FoxNews.com that the preemptive action was unnecessary, and that Rodriguez "overstepped his bounds."
Superintendent Smith described freedom of expression as "a sacred American value" and said the lesson learned is that it should be celebrated "thoughtfully and fairly."
"It is unfortunate that some people want to leverage their personal agendas off of this incident," Smith said, noting the national media attention on the school.
"Most of the kids on our campus have said, 'Enough is enough.' they want to get back to normal."
Morgan Hill Police Department Cmdr. Joe Sampson said two officers were stationed at Live Oak High School school midday Friday to give a "visual presence" in order to thwart any potential acts of violence.
"We want to give them peace of mind should they need us," Sampson told Fox News.
Sampson confirmed that no arrests were made during a walkout at the school on Thursday.
More than 200 Hispanic students reportedly skipped class on Thursday and marched to school district headquarters while chanting "we want respect" and "si se puede" -- "yes we can," the Morgan Hill Times reported.
"We did this to support the Latino/Hispanic community," Francine Roa, a 2005 Live Oak High School graduate, told the newspaper.
FoxNews.com's Joshua Rhett Miller contributed to this report.