Friday, February 28, 2014

Calling Paul Harvey

I can't say I was a fan of Paul Harvey's views, when he was alive and on the radio, but he was a marvelous storyteller whose signature feature was "The Rest of the Story."  In each installment, Harvey would bring to life some unknown aspect of a well known, or not so well known, story.  The storytelling was aided by Harvey's no-nonsense Midwestern baritone.

It's important to hear the rest of the story.  I was reminded of that this morning, when social media was all a-twitter (pun intended) over the horrifying news that an appellate panel of the Ninth Circuit, a federal appeals court with jurisdiction over the western U.S., had upheld the right of a school district to ban the display of the American Flag.

The usual suspects were manning the outrage machine today.  There are left-wing reactionaries, to be sure, but the right wing has us beat on that kind of activity.  If all you hear is "American school bans American Flag," then it's obvious that something has gone horribly wrong. 

It turns out that there is more to the story.

Morgan Hill is a city of about 40,000 people that lies on the outskirts of Silicon Valley, about a half-hour drive from San Jose.  For several years, Morgan Hill's Live Oak High School has offered a Cinco de Mayo celebration in respect of its students of Mexican extraction.  Cinco de Mayo nominally celebrates the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.  Cinco de Mayo is actually not an important holiday in Mexico, nor is it celebrated throughout that country.  Instead, it's a Mexican-American holiday that is observed in the United States as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage.

Like many high schools with racially diverse student bodies, Live Oak occasionally had problems with race-based fighting.  By 2009, the Cinco de Mayo celebration had become particularly marked by problems.  Both Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites appear to have been at fault. Some whites would use the holiday to assert an aggressively patriotic view, complete with clothing representing or containing the American Flag. Some Hispanics took offense and resorted to violence as an expression of that offense.

In its published opinion, the Ninth Circuit described the situation as follows:

On Cinco de Mayo in 2009, a year before the events relevant to this appeal, there was an altercation on campus between a group of predominantly Caucasian students and a group of Mexican students. The groups exchanged profanities and threats. Some students hung a makeshift American flag on one of the trees on campus, and as they did, the group of Caucasian students began clapping and chanting "USA." A group of Mexican students had been walking around with the Mexican flag, and in response to the white students’ flag-raising, one Mexican student shouted "f*** them white boys, f*** them white boys." When Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez told the student to stop using profane language, the student said, "But Rodriguez, they are racist. They are being racist. F*** them white boys. Let’s f*** them up." Rodriguez removed the student from the area.
When May 5, 2010, rolled around, school officials were determined to minimize the likelihood of violence while maintaining the celebration.  When several white students wore American Flag shirts to school, the principal asked them to turn their shirts inside out or take them off.  They refused.  The principal pleaded with them that he was concerned for their safety.  The students said they were willing to risk it.  The principal then offered them excused absences if they would go home, and they did so.  The principal's fears were justified; despite their having gone home, the students were threatened with violence later in the week.

The school did not discipline the students who wore the shirts.  It did not charge them with absences for the missed school.  They were not prohibited from wearing flag shirts on other days.

The Ninth Circuit agreed that the school's actions were appropriate.  While students do not give up their right to free speech at the schoolhouse door, schools have the right to enforce rules designed to protect their students from speech that is disruptive or dangerous.  The most famous case on that point is Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, a Supreme Court case in which the speech in question was students' wearing of black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.  That kind of speech was deemed to be protected.  However, schools may prohibit speech that "might reasonably [lead] school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities," or that constitutes an "actual or nascent [interference] with the schools’ work or . . . collision with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone."

Live Oak had had problems with violence in the past.  It took steps that were very narrowly tailored to prevent that violence from happening again.  This is not persecution of "white America."  While I think additional effort could have been focused on disciplining the students who were threatening violence, the school acted appropriately.

And now you know the rest of the story.


  1. I'm actually going to disagree with the school's actions (though I applaud their efforts to remove violence). I agree that the students wearing the American flags were doing so not out of "patriotism" but in order to antagonize another group. That said, I do not think allowing the other group (which was threatening violence) to continue with their celebration (even a diversity celebration) was appropriate. The school should have banned all outward expressions of nationality. The festival, unfortunately, would have to go if it could not be handled appropriately by the participants. We've seen the same thing at Ole Miss with the racially-sensitive display of the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (it would be nice if people would understand that title, rather than calling it the "Confederate Flag", which was the Stars and Bars), the singing of "Dixie", etc. The school had handled it, I feel, in excellent taste by having a dignified, respectful pre-game ceremony featuring the "American Trilogy"--Dixie, the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and a lullaby. Unfortunately, the students (knowing full well their intent), continued (despite pleas from the administration) to shout, "The South Shall Rise Again" during this pregame show--thus it was discontinued. So it should be with the Cinco de Mayo celebrations at the California school. I will also say that, here in South Texas, Cinco de Mayo is primarily another excuse to get drunk, along the lines of St. Patrick's Day. One needn't be Irish or Mexican or any variation thereof in order to get drunk and celebrate. Both are a good reason to stay home off the streets....

  2. Oh, one more thing: in my 35 year claim career, I have had occasion to be close to events that were "on the news" at 6 and 10. In my experience, "the rest of the story" was almost never told to the public. We (the insurance people) are bound by confidentiality to not disclose facts of a case under investigation, and certainly not a case that has been settled. So, the true facts never seem to make the news. There are ALWAYS two sides to a story...