School Forces Student To Remove American Flag Shirt

Danielle Gaines
The Merced Sun Star
September 23, 2008

Students at Dos Palos High School protested Thursday — by wearing patriotic regalia to school — after a sophomore student was forced to remove a T-shirt depicting the American flag.

Officials at the Merced County school confirmed Thursday that Jake Shelly was forced to take off a red, white and blue tie-dyed American flag T-shirt on Tuesday. The shirt said nothing offensive, just: “United States of America, Washington, D.C.”

The school’s assistant principal issued Shelly a bright yellow T-shirt that read “DCV: Dress Code Violator” to wear for the rest of the day. He was given his shirt back after classes ended.

“It was really embarrassing and humiliating to have to wear that all day — and just for supporting your country,” his sister Kaycee Shelly said.

Kaycee Shelly told members of the media at lunchtime that her brother was overwhelmed and did not want to do any more interviews.

Earlier in the day, he was speaking with a local news station when an unidentified teacher walked up to him, ripped off the microphone clipped to his shirt and told him he was not allowed to talk to the media.

District officials said they apologized to the student, his family and the local American Legion on Wednesday — Constitution Day.

“In reviewing the dress code at the time, an administrator felt the shirt was in violation of that section of the dress code,” said Superintendent Brian Walker. “She asked him to remove it and he did.”

The assistant principal initially thought Shelly’s T-shirt violated a clause of the school dress code that does not allow “shirts/blouses that promote specific races, cultures, or ethnicities.”

School officials said they will now interpret that clause of the dress code — which was written at the beginning of this school year — differently.

Defiance when asked to remove an article of clothing is an automatic 3- to 5-day suspension, according to the dress code.

“Certainly we are taking responsibility for it and it will not happen again,” Walker said. “A shirt that has an American flag, a shirt that has a Chinese flag or a Mexican flag, is certainly not a violation of that part of the dress code.”

Jake Shelly was wearing the tie-dyed T-shirt as part of a hippie dress-up day during homecoming week.

Students on campus started a campaign to wear as much red, white or blue clothing and carry as many flags as possible Thursday in protest of Tuesday’s decision, despite the apology. Jake Shelly wore the same shirt he wore Tuesday and was not disciplined.

“I am glad so many people are supporting this and wearing red, white and blue,” his sister said. She believes the swift change in rules was because of the overwhelming student action.

A.J. Galindo is one student who wore a patriotic shirt to school.

Galindo’s shirt honored Marine Cpl. Joshua Pickard, a family member who died in Iraq in 2006. Pickard’s two brothers remain active in the Marines.

“I think it is horrible that you can’t wear an American flag to school without something like this happening,” he said, referring to the flurry of activities during the school’s lunch hour. “We have people fighting for our country and dying every day, but we can’t wear an American flag at a public school?”

A.J. said he was proud of the patriotism displayed by his classmates.

His mother, Julie, said she was upset when she first heard the news Tuesday but feels better about the situation now.

“Initially, I was really concerned about what I heard, but after asking a few questions I realized the whole controversy is just the result of one person’s misinterpretation of the rule,” she said.

Julie Galindo said everyone makes mistakes and accepted the apologies by the school’s administration.

She added that Dos Palos is a patriotic town and erected a veteran’s memorial just last year. Several members of the education community served on a committee to erect the memorial that stands on the grounds of Marks Elementary School.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to think of Dos Palos as an unpatriotic place,” Julie Galindo said. “I feel very proud of my town and very proud of my country and very proud to wear the American flag.”

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