San Benito High School senior Jared Ballinger, who has completed basic training in the Army Reserve's Alternate Training Program and is set to finish advanced training after graduation, was driving around the campus parking lot this week with an American flag flying from the back of his truck when a school counselor flagged him down.
"I was told that flying any kind of flag, even the flag of the United States of America, wasn't allowed," said Ballinger, also noting that a school resource officer pulled up behind and took down his license plate number.
Ballinger said he's been told recently he couldn't wear a T-shirt displaying the American flag as well.
"That's where I draw the line," Ballinger told the Free Lance on Tuesday.
While San Benito High School today implemented stricter dress code policies that bar logos having city names and other brands that local authorities have deemed associated with gangs, the rule against displaying any sort of flag - including the American flag - has been in place for several years. And it's not just the American flag ban that has stirred some controversy, as students at the school in the past on Mexican Independence Day have been told to remove Mexican flags.
The district's policy, however, does not explicitly mention flags - despite the rule's widely followed interpretation that some students say got even stricter with the dress code change today.
According to Beverly Bettencourt, Principal Krystal Lomanto's administrative assistant, the portion of the handbook that forbids flags is the following:
"Clothing that is offensive, threatening, provocative, vulgar, displays tobacco, alcohol or drug advertising, or displays profanity, racial slurs, or has images of gang-related symbols is disruptive to the educational process and may not be worn."
Bettencourt acknowledged that the policy does not specifically mention flags, but said the section is referred to when students are asked to remove or cover them.
Lomanto has not returned Free Lance phone calls seeking comment on the flag policy and new dress code.
San Benito County Office of Education Superintendent Tim Foley told the Free Lance it's a complex issue.
"It is unfortunate that basic symbols are so politicized, and I understand the reasons behind the school policy," Foley said.
Mary Encinias, a trustee with the San Benito High School District, said she remembers some troubling incidents involving flags before the ban.
"When I was teaching at the high school, I remember some students wearing Confederate and American flags," said Encinias, noting how the principal at the time enacted the rule for the school's safety. "They were racists, and that was wrong."
Encinias said some students wear flags "as a challenge."
"Kids can display these flags inappropriately, and it can be disrespectful," she summarized. "However, it is not the action of displaying the flag itself - it is the reaction that inappropriate display can bring."
Though the policy change was meant to curb problems, it has been a point of contention on campus this week. Senior Matt Austin said he had been driving around with a flag on his truck today - as he has in the past - and that four different campus supervisors told him to take it down while they recorded his name and plate number.
He had been asked to remove his flag at school once before "a while back," he said. But in the past couple of days, he said, "It's been horrible." He said a staff member today told him he could be suspended for disobeying the rule.
"They're saying the American flag causes racial tension," he said. "I think that is just a load of crap, personally. I mean, you're in America. That is what represents this country."
Austin's friend, Justin Jimenez, noted how every classroom in the school has a flag.
"Everyone's pretty much on our side," said Jimenez, a senior. "Some of the teachers we talked to are actually on our side."
Sgt. First Class Nathan Kerr, who recruited Ballinger out of the Gilroy Recruiting Center, said the flag is "part of our heritage."
"Millions of soldiers have, and are, defending the right to display the flag," said Kerr, who added that Ballinger spent the entire summer completing basic training and that he will be eligible for active duty in the current war upon graduation.http://www.freelancenews.com/news/24...dents-outraged