Flag waving during International Rally leads to free speech clash

Gabi Backus, Staff Writer

When Bear Creek senior Mason Kite, who was just accepted into the Marines, stood up and waved an American flag at the International Rally in March, he probably never thought his actions would lead to a school-wide outcry, reaching so far as the district level.

“I was approached by several students about why the student had decided to do that,” Principal Hillary Harrell said.

Black Student Union president Destiny Farley, who was performing at the time, found Kite’s actions to be troubling.

“At an International Rally, I would expect everyone to be open to various displays and symbols representing different cultures and ethnicities,” Farley said. “I couldn’t help but ask myself if there was something particular to the Black and White student dynamic that played a part in [this]… display of disrespect.

“As young men and women aspire to honorably serve in the United States Armed Forces, they must understand that the commitment comes with upholding a high standard and code of behavior including defending the US Constitution,” Farley said.

“We had one group of students [who didn’t understand] why that student had disturbed their performance, and they had questions about it,” Harrell said about the incident.

The school held a conference to ensure each student felt like they were listened to and given a chance to discuss their concerns.

After the rally an anonymous Uniform Complaint Procedure was filed with Enrique Avalos, LUSD’s Positive School Climate administrator; the PSC is responsible for ensuring that LUSD schools remain diligent in not allowing “the occurrence of unlawful discrimination (such as discriminatory harassment, intimidation, or bullying) against any student, employee, or other person participating in district programs and activities,” as reported on the LUSD website’s Uniform Complaint Procedure Policy.

Due to the confidentiality of the complaint, Avalos was unable to comment. However, LUSD’s website lists Board policies Series 5000, which covers student-related policies.

Policy 5145.2, Freedom of Speech/Expression, promises to protect the Constitutional rights of students.

“The Superintendent or designee shall not discipline any high school student solely on the basis of speech or other communication that would be constitutionally protected when engaged in outside of school, but may impose discipline for harassment, threats, or intimidation unless constitutionally protected,” the policy says.

Conversely, policy 5145.9, Hate-Motivated Behavior, offers similar protection as the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEO).
“The Board of Education desires to protect the right of every student to be free from hate-motivated behavior and will promote harmonious relationships among students,” the policy says. It prohibits discriminatory behavior against ethnicity, culture, sex, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Despite students’ concerns, was Mason Kite’s behavior Constitutionally wrong or against LUSD discriminatory codes? If it is, how can a violation like his affect a student’s future?

Students who participate in such protests may find themselves at odds with their potential university’s rules. Protest is protected under the right to free speech, so public colleges, operating under government law, cannot reject students for their personal beliefs or activities, but private colleges reserve the right to suspend or reject applications from students who participate in what may be seen as threatening behavior or behavior that disagrees with their ideology.

In February 2018, Yale’s administrations blog said that the university wouldn’t penalize prospective students who were suspended for participating in anti gun protests after the Parkland shooting. In fact, they claimed they will not rescind ANY students’ admission decision for participating in peaceful walkouts for any cause.

After the Parkland shooting, more than 150 schools across the country, public and private, issued statements — most through social media like Twitter or Facebook — assuring applicants that their activism would not affect their admissions.

“In situations similar to this one, the military has contacted the school and has a history of contacting the school to ensure that their new recruits are exemplary citizens,” Harrell said.

Kite, as a United States Marines recruit, did not raise concern with his military recruiter. The Marine Corps, like any other agency, follows the EEO, and ruled Kite’s behavior to not be in violation of its policies.

Marine student recruiting office coordinator Gunnery Sergeant Able stands with Kite.

“It was a peaceful protest,” Able said. “He has every right to wave the American flag. It was a mere show of patriotism. Mason Kite will tell you it was done as an act of solidarity with those [BC Latinos and BSU] groups.”

Bear Creek ultimately decided Kite was not a threat or violating any District or Constitutional policies; however, Kite was disciplined for his actions.

“The school’s official conclusion was that there was not willful discrimination,” Harrell said. “We’ve reached a satisfactory conclusion.”

Kite, along with his parents, refused to comment for the article.