Hundreds gather at school board meeting to address Live Oak T-shirt flap

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Superintendent Wes Smith is interviewed Tuesday at the school

The incident at Live Oak High School May 5 drew the ire of
hundreds at the Morgan Hill Unified School District board meeting
tonight held at Britton Middle School theater to accommodate the
crowd of about 250.
The incident at Live Oak High School May 5 drew the ire of hundreds at the Morgan Hill Unified School District board meeting tonight held at Britton Middle School theater to accommodate the crowd of about 250.

The decision by Principal Nick Boden to send four students home who were wearing American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo to maintain safety at the school and prevent any fights has grabbed the nation’s attention since last Wednesday and continued tonight as every major Bay Area TV news station was on-hand including CNN out of a San Francisco bureau.

The more than 30 people who addressed the school board and the near-capacity theater delved into every aspect of what the incident spurred, how it could have been prevented and what it meant to each person.

To all that spoke and the many who cheered or booed – it stirred deep-seated emotions from everyone in attendance. Several Morgan Hill police officers were stationed in the back of the theater, but no disruption was made during the one hour and 45 minute public forum.

“This is more than a kumbaya symbol,” Mark Zappa of Gilroy said after a woman spoke about the symbolism of the American flag she brought with her. “This is incorrigible. This was no small infraction. This was no speeding ticket. I want to see the vice principal and principal fired,” he said.

While some called for the Live Oak administration’s removal, others defended what transpired that day and also brought to light the history of a racial divide – Hispanics versus whites – at Live Oak.

“We have racial discrimination still? This is 2010,” said Teresa Rita Corona, 18, who is also a Live Oak graduate. She said that when her mother went to Live Oak the tension was there and that it needs to be resolved.

“Hopefully they heard the fire in us,” Corona said, who agreed with the decision made May 5. She said safety has always been an issue at that school. Several students from Ann Sobrato High School said that Live Oak is known for being more dangerous with more racial division than their high school, where they say race isn’t an issue among friends.

One Morgan Hill resident Lee Parchert spoke on behalf of defending the First Amendment. He referred to the Supreme Court decision in 1969 of Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District that upheld students’ rights to free speech and expression and the ruling that those right are not given up at the gates of the school.

“If safety was an issue, why were the students offered to turn their shirts inside out and return to class?” Parchert asked. He used the evidence of that day when Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez asked the teens during their brunch break to go to the office, yet there were plenty of students who saw and who would remember who those four students were, he said, if inciting violence was the real issue.

“This line of logic holds no water. Your irresponsible administrator has not only committed a criminal act. … But also could caused economic peril. Not removing this individual will have an already cash-strapped district exposed to legal action,” Parchert said.

Superintendent Wes Smith was asked to fire the Live Oak administrators, but also was thanked by several people for his swift response to the incident. Smith reiterated what the school district has said since May 5: Students are always allowed to wear red, white and blue.

“The students should not have been asked to remove their patriotic shirts,” Smith said, his statement met with applause. He also said he hopes the community may “uncover greatness from controversy.”

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