U.S. appeals court sides with California
school in T-shirt dispute
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[February 28, 2014]
By Laila Kearney
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco
Bay-area high school officials did not violate the civil rights of five
students by demanding they remove T-shirts bearing images of the U.S.
flag at an event celebrating the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo, a
federal appeals court ruled on Thursday.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said
school officials acted out of legitimate concerns of violence when
they sent a handful of students home for refusing to change their
American flag-embellished apparel.
"The panel held (that) given the history of prior events at the
school, including an altercation on campus, it was reasonable for
school officials to proceed as though the threat of a potentially
violent disturbance was real," Judge Margaret McKeown wrote in the
Live Oak High School in the town of Morgan Hill, south of San
Francisco, had been experiencing gang-related tensions and racially
charged altercations between white and Hispanic students at the
time. School officials said they feared the imposition of American
patriotic imagery by some students at an event where other students
were celebrating their pride in their Mexican heritage would incite
fights between the two groups.
School staff at the May 5, 2010, event told flag-wearing students
Daniel Galli, Austin Carvalho, Matt Dariano, Dominic Maciel and
Clayton Howard to reverse their shirts, take them off or go home.
Four of the boys ultimately chose to leave for home.
The incident soon attracted widespread public attention. The parents
of three students later filed suit claiming the school's actions had
violated their children's federal and state constitutional rights to
freedom of expression, equal protection and due process, according
to court documents.
Thursday's opinion upheld a decision by U.S. District Judge James
Ware, who ruled in November 2011 that school officials were
reasonably fearful that the boys' clothing would incite violence.
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Following the appeals hearing, plaintiffs attorney William Becker,
who represents the boys and their families, told the Morgan Hill
Times that he was prepared to take the case to the U.S. Supreme
Court if necessary.
"It's pretty incredible that the First Amendment rights of students
to express their patriotic views has to take the backseat to the
rights of students who want to celebrate another nation," Becker
told the paper.
(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Steve Gorman and Ken Wills)
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