A flyer circulating on MySpace.com and on campus earlier in the week promoted the "Red or Blue" day on Aug. 24 as a protest against the ban on red and blue clothing as well as a rule requiring students in the cafeteria at lunch to remain seated.
Because the colors red and blue are often interpreted as gang colors, Liberty Union High School District has enforced a long-standing dress code that does not allow for students to wear any red or blue attire, whether it's a hat, pants, shirt, belt, shoes or bandana.
"We are not saying that your child is a gang member," Heritage Principal Andy Parsons said, adding that the concern for the students isn't as much during school hours as the hours before and after school. "They may be walking home and be mistaken as a gang member. It's for their safety."
The cafeteria rule was implemented this year as the result of several fights that broke out in the cafeteria during the past school year, according to Parsons. "We were unable to get to the students (involved in the fights) because all the kids were standing up," he said.
The promotional flyer said the protest was rooted in the fact the "red and blue are our nation's colors, standing for the blood that was shed in the war for independence over an oppressive leadership…we, too, are simply wearing them in protest of the harsh rules that have been set down, and exercising our First Amendment rights."
Numerous students, however, said the dress code amounted to racial profiling. Comments on campus, MySpace.com and in the media suggested that minority students on the west Brentwood campus were being targeted for dress code violations based on their ethnicity.
Parsons, however, said the data proves otherwise.
"I've heard a lot of these things; that's why I asked for the data on the dress code
violations," said Parsons. He said that since the start of the year, Caucasian students had received 49 percent of the citations, followed by Hispanics at 26 percent, African Americans at 18 percent, Filipinos/Asians at 5 percent and other ethnicities at 2 percent. Of those cited, 117 were female students and 49 were male.
Parsons said he was fully aware that the protest would take place during Friday's lunch period, and informed his staff to be lenient on students who chose to wear red or blue in support of the day's protest.
"It was supposed to be a peaceful, don't-sit-down protest; then someone started throwing food," Parsons said during an interview on Friday. "I do not call it a riot. It was a food fight and a protest. But the behavior today disrespected the school."
One junior who witnessed the protest said, "People were just standing up in the cafeteria - standing up for their rights. Then there was a food fight."
Senior Edward Alvarez said, "They were protesting because of gang colors. And people were standing up in the cafeteria because there is a new rule that you can't stand up."
Police were dispatched to the school when the school's resource officers called for backup, said Lt. Tom Hansen of the Brentwood PD. "We had two resource officers that requested additional assistance and we (five more officers) responded."
Hansen estimated that "there were about 300 students (involved) and about 100 got rambunctious."
Hansen said that after the crowd dispersed and students were sent back to class, "The police detained about seven kids. They are being handled administratively through the school."
Parsons truly believes that his students "were trying to do civil disobedience, except with civil disobedience there needs to be communication first - there was no communication."
But, Parsons said on Wednesday that the channels of communication have opened up. "I met with 25 students yesterday and there was some really good input." The result of the meeting, said Parsons will be video produced by the students as to what was resolved at the meeting - dress code issues and safety concerns.
But unfortunately some students have already paid the price for their actions during the protest. Parsons said that 22 students were suspended for school disruption, willful disobedience and a few other things. "The people that were suspended were from the food fight … we didn't suspend kids who just protested."
In addition to the food fight participants, Parsons said one other student was suspended after being warned not to continue videotaping the incident. Parsons said, "Video cameras actually incite more activities when people see the camera."
Additionally, Parsons said a number of cameras were seized during the protest due to a school policy that prohibits the use of personal cameras on campus.
Two officers were reportedly hit with food thrown during the incident. No injuries to police or students were reported.
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