Apache Junction High School students went through a Friday steeped in racial tension, confusion and ultimately, a partial reversal by an administrator who tried to calm things down.
The day began with emotions high. Students wore Mexican and American flags to school. Tension between Hispanics and whites, some said, reached a near-riot pitch because of what happened the day before.
On Thursday, district officials said Hispanic students took down the American flag from a pole at the school, raised the Mexican flag, then watched as white students took it down and burned it. A shoving match ensued.
By the end of classes Friday, Superintendent Greg Wyman had created a new policy: No flags of any kind, whether on clothing, jewelry or otherwise, will be worn or brought on campus.
He also canceled the school’s MORP (the word “prom” spelled in reverse) dance scheduled for today.
The no-flag policy set off a firestorm of phone calls from outraged parents who said it violated rights of free expression. Some said it was downright unpatriotic.
By late Friday, after meeting with school and district officials, Wyman reversed part of his decision. The dance is still off, but the no-flag policy, which was supposed to last until the end of the school year, didn’t last the day.
A district spokeswoman cited calls from parents.
Angela Morrissey has two daughters who go to the school. She called Wyman, and even Apache Junction’s mayor, in the afternoon to complain. Neither called her back, she said.
Two of Morrissey’s daughters are in the on-campus Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, a group of students preparing for military careers. A member of the JROTC program was involved in Thursday’s fight.
“My problem with this is that you’re taking away our children’s right to show pride in their country, whatever country that is,” Morrissey said before the policy was reversed. She would not give her daughters’ names for fear they’d be confronted Monday.
Banning flags, she said, “is not going to (make the situation) go away.”
Stories about what may have set off the no-flag policy Friday are conflicted.
Morrissey said her daughters came home in the afternoon saying they had seen ethnic “gangs” fighting at lunchtime, Hispanics wearing white T-shirts and Mexican flags, and a carload of white kids driving by the school flashing a Nazi salute.
In an e-mail to the Tribune, Apache Junction senior Ari Kalan said tension at the school was thick, with a few students shouting, “White pride!” and others carrying Mexican and American flags.
But the letter the superintendent sent to parents announcing the short-lived policy gave few details. “Students continue to make poor choices that worsen the situation,” he wrote.
District spokeswoman Carol Shepherd would not elaborate. She said there were no reports of violence and added, when she was on campus, she didn’t see any either.
The flag-burning incident Thursday seemed to have been set off by a series of proimmigration rallies across the nation and Arizona for more than a week.
Twenty-thousand protested on March 24 in central Phoenix against a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would have made felons out of about 11 million illegal immigrants in America.
Half a million people came out against it in Los Angeles and 300,000 in Chicago. Thousands of high school students statewide have also left class to protest it.
The bill significantly changed when it reached the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday and now includes the makings for a guestworker program.