The Charlotte Observer
A teen who wore a full-sized flag of Mexico to his high school graduation ceremony in North Carolina is at risk of not getting his diploma.
Video posted on Facebook by Asheboro City Schools shows the student had the flag draped like a cape over his graduation gown during the ceremony Thursday. The identity of the student was not released.
District officials say the ensemble was a blatant disregard for the event’s strict dress code and they are in discussions with the teen and his family over the fate of his diploma. Asheboro is about 75 miles northeast of Charlotte.
“Our graduation dress code is clearly shared with students ahead of time, and the wearing of a flag of any kind is a violation of the dress code,” the district said in a release.
“We continue working to resolve this issue with the student and his family so that he will receive his diploma from Asheboro High School. He has worked very hard and we commend him on this great achievement. We are confident in his abilities and we know he has a bright future ahead of him.”
The video shows the student was delayed by a school official on the stage, and he is seen unsuccessfully attempting to remove the flag, which was pinned around his neck. The school official eventually hands him a diploma holder and he exits to audience cheers, with the flag still around his neck.
District officials say a graduation ceremony dress code permits “students to decorate their mortar boards as a nod to their individuality and creativity,” but no other deviations are accepted on the “standard cap and gown regalia.”
The district’s explanation was shared on social media Friday amid growing criticism of the school’s handling of the incident. The statement racked up 1,000 reactions and nearly 900 comments in three hours, including calls to fire Asheboro High Principal Penny Crooks.
Critics called the incident racist, anti-Mexican, and an example of modern day colonialism, because the flag includes symbols of Central Mexico’s indigenous Aztec people.
“Your staff withholding a diploma in exchange to put his flag down is a form of colonization,” Maria Marquez posted on the school district’s Facebook page.
“Y’all need to apologize to this young man and his family for ruining one of the most important nights of his life because he chose to wear HIS FLAG,” Celine Cantu wrote.
“You have your standards for cap and gown regalia…and he deviated. So what? That does not warrant humiliation and a withholding of his diploma, which he earned,” Michelle Villa said.
Some supported the district’s decision, noting the dress code was made clear in advance.
“If we have the right to break the rules, we also have an obligation to accept the consequences,” V. Carolina Agüero posted.
District officials acknowledged the criticism in a second Facebook post and said they were “disheartened” by the accusations.
“The incident at AHS last night has been misrepresented across a number of social media platforms. The heart of the issue is the fact that the student did not follow the established dress code for the event and detracted from the importance and the solemnity of the ceremony,” the district said.
“The student attended and fully participated in the graduation ceremonies at AHS. … This incident is not about the Mexican flag. Students were encouraged to express their identity by decorating their mortar boards. A number of students followed the protocol and had the Mexican flag and other representations appropriately displayed during the ceremony.”
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