A group of students at a California high school basketball game were told to remove patriotic bandanas and stop chanting “USA, USA” because school administrators wanted to be sensitive to other spectators.
The incident occurred during a basketball last week between Camarillo High School and Rio Mesa High School in Ventura County.
A school administrator pulled aside four boys and told them to either remove their American flag bandanas or leave the game. The boys complied but returned to lead the crowd in a chant of “USA, USA.”
Both schools have a large Hispanic student population.
Student Austin Medeiros and the other boys were suspended for their actions – but the punishment was later lifted by school officials.
Still, students are upset over what happened and staged a protest at the school’s flagpole by wearing red, white and blue.
“We’ve done it always,” Medeiros told the Ventura County Star. “It’s something we do. It’s the same group of friends. We’re all very patriotic.”
But Gabe Soumakian, the superintendent of the Oxnard Union School District, told Fox News there were “racial overtones” to the chant — which you can watch at the bottom of the page.
“There was symbolism there with the bandana and the chant,” he said.
“It has nothing to do with being patriotic or unpatriotic,” Soumakian said. “it has to do with the fact that they are making a chant regarding that we are from the USA and you’re not. Whether that’s the implied intent, that’s the way it comes across.”
Soumakian said the “USA” chant does not comply with state athletic guidelines.
“It talks about pursuing victory with honor,” he told Fox News. “You’re supposed to chant for your team.”
As for the principal’s concerns about racial overtones – the superintendent said he had the same fears.
“We wanted to make sure whatever was being cheered was appropriate,” he said. “We are responding to a global issue in terms of how students should be respecting the other school.”
Medeiros, along with many other students, took to Twitter to weigh in on the fall-out.
“I will always be proud of where I come from and what my flag represents,” he tweeted. “No matter what anyone tells me! I stand up for what I believe in!”
The superintendent believes this is a “teachable moment” for the entire school.
“They have to respect everyone,” he said. “When you go to a game – you cheer for your team and you don’t make any derogatory comments or make inappropriate comments toward the other team.”
And while the students involved in the incident said they are very patriotic, the superintendent offered this word of caution:
“We have a very diverse student body in the district,” he said.
And while the punishments were lifted, he said the incident is far from over.
“As a superintendent I think we need to pursue this further,” he said. “We need to work with teachers and students and the community about the concept of cultural proficiency.”
He said cultural proficiency is “understanding how to work, live, be and understand the heritage and be respectful.”
“It’s more than just the tolerance of other ethnic or cultural groups,” he said.
Angry residents are posting their thoughts on social networking sites like YouTube.
That makes me so proud to see young people, especially in California where anti-Americanism is rampant, take pride in their country and show it!
“I am absolutely dumbfounded that these proud American kids were singled out and punished for being patriotic,” one reader wrote. ” If you don’t love this country…get out.”
Last year, a Texas school district filed a complaint after students from an opposing school began chanting “USA, USA” at a region basketball championship.
Students from Alamo Heights High School directed the chat at Edison High School, a predominantly Hispanic school. Edison officials claimed the chant was racist.
That incident led to an investigation by the state organization that governs high school athletics.
In 2010 a group of students at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, Calif. were banned from wearing American flag t-shirts on Cinco de Mayo.
A federal court later ruled in favor of the school district – saying concerns over possible violence justified censoring the pro-American message.