There is another bizarre story out of our public school system where a school official at Denair Middle School in Sacramento, California told 13-year-old Cody Alicea to remove an American flag from his bike because of fears that it would trigger “racial tensions.” According to this interview with the Superintendent, Cody has now been informed that he can display the American flag after a review of the supervisor’s decision — and a national outcry.
I remain perplexed by such decisions of officials. As with the mindless application of zero tolerance that we have seen on drugs and guns with absurd results, I cannot imagine why an official would view the solution to such a threat as being to silence the student’s first amendment rights. This is akin to saying, “your free speech is bothering a bully, so stop speaking.” If there is a student or students who will turn violent at the sight of an American flag, they need to be removed from the school. Ironically, Cody has been flying his flag on his bike for two months but was told to strike the colors just before Veteran’s Day. Nice timing.
There is no indication of whether the superintendent considered the decision by this official to be fundamentally at odds with free speech and good judgment. Superintendent Edward Parraz agrees that “the First Amendment is important” but adds “[o]ur Hispanic, you know, kids will, you know, bring their Mexican flags and they’ll display it, and then of course the kids would do the American flag situation, and it does cause kind of a racial tension which we don’t really want. We want them to appreciate the cultures.” The evidence of such appreciation of other cultures appears to be forced silence. It is rather easy to achieve the appearance of cultural harmony when when students are told to be silent on their cultural or national values. The idea is to promote pluralism with the expression of different views — not claiming success by avoiding any expression (and rejection) of views.
The official insists that he or she was trying to protect Cody, but that is a rather sad statement when students are taught that they should hide their views to avoid being attacked in our public schools. If that is the reality of the situation at Denair Middle School, the entire school needs to be placed under special supervision with added measures to protect the students and their free speech rights.