PRESS RELEASE SEPTEMBER 5, 2016
We spoke with 2 parents who called to complain about the flags. Both parents were extremely thankful that we took the time to discuss the matter. We met with students who were offended by the display of these flags. We also met with the boys who displayed the flags in their trucks and the father of one of the boys. In total we met with fewer than 10 individuals. In a school of 1100 students this was further evidence that there was little to no disruption to the educational process. Moreover, the students, regardless of their personal opinions, acted civilly and respectfully toward one another.
We do not tolerate hate crimes. This year we have suspended and disciplined one student for using language that was racially or ethnically offensive or charged. To ensure students’ rights to privacy are not violated we cannot discuss any information specifically related to this instance. It is important to note that this type of conduct occurs very seldom on our school campus. The great majority of students at Rim High School are caring young individuals. It is noteworthy that students on both sides of this issue have remained respectful toward each other.
In a recent article published by local media, Ms. Celise-‐Reyes shared inaccurate information. We immediately investigate any allegations of hate crimes or hate speech. Moreover, we take action to the fullest extent of the law when students engage in this type of behavior. To date, despite continual monitoring at the High School, the District has not received reports of any concerns such as those mentioned in the article. We will reach out to Ms. Celise-‐Reyes in an effort to address and investigate any such allegations.
We must also correct a misconception regarding Assembly Bill 2444, which has been mentioned by a few individuals as making it “illegal” to display the Confederate flag on state property. This law, enacted in 2014 and codified in the
Government Code, prohibits the State of California from selling or displaying Confederate flags on state property. It has no application to an individual's right to display a flag, which is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
One of the first rights mentioned in the Bill of Rights is freedom of speech. The United States Supreme Court held nearly 50 years ago that students “do not shed their constitutional rights at the school house gate.” (Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969) 393 U.S. 503.)
California law goes farther in protecting the right of students to express themselves. Education Code section 48907 guarantees all students in the public schools “the right to exercise freedom of speech.” According to the courts, California law gives students greater free speech rights at school than the general public has under the Constitution. (Lopez v. Tulare Joint Union High School District (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 1302.)
As our federal court of appeals noted, “school administrators face the daunting task of evaluating potential threats of violence and keeping their students safe without impinging on their constitutional rights.” (Wynar v. Douglas County School District (9th Cir. 2013) 728 F.3d 1062, 1064.)
We recognize, and seek to pass along to our students, that freedom of expression applies to everyone, not only those we agree with. The courts tell us “the way to oppose offensive speech is by more speech.” (Gathright v. City of Portland (9th Cir. 2006) 439 F.3d 573.)
Our students have responded to this issue in an exemplary way. We haven’t seen threats or disruption of our campus. Instead we’ve seen tolerance and respect for each other’s rights, even if students disagree with the ideas being expressed. That’s a lesson in democracy that goes to the heart of the First Amendment.
We continue to support site administrators by remaining on campus daily, visiting with students and teachers in classrooms, hallways and outside areas to ensure student safety is number one and the instructional process is not hampered. We have received numerous commendations from parents and the community for our ability to navigate this situation in a manner that encouraged civil discourse between our students. This couldn’t have been more evident than what was observed by many at our Board meeting during Public Input on Thursday, September 1, 2016. Students prepared speeches and eloquently delivered them to the Board of Education in a respectful and courteous manner.
We thank the Rim of the World community for its ongoing support.
Lawrence King, Associate Superintendent