A Lesson on Old Glory

September 22, 2004 1 min read

The school year in Denver got off to a rocky start last month after a high school teacher hung a United States flag the wrong way—and next to a Mexican flag—in his classroom.

On Aug. 17, the Rocky Mountain News published a story about the opening of school, which had occurred the day before. The paper ran a photo with the story of a classroom at North High School, where 84 percent of the students are Hispanic.

The U.S. flag was hanging vertically, with the field of stars on the upper right instead of the upper left, as it should be. Hanging next to the American flag was the flag of Mexico.

The photo spurred local radio talk shows to discuss not only the improper display of the American flag, but why there was a Mexican flag hanging next to it.

Although the American flag was fixed immediately, the school and district were inundated with phone calls demanding the removal of the Mexican flag. Some callers expressed concerns that the district was being too tolerant of immigrants.

Along with legitimate complaints about the improper display of the U.S. flag, the district received “lots of racist and very spiteful comments,” according to Mark Stevens, a spokesman for the 72,500-student district.

The comments even went so far as to say the immigrants should return to their countries, he said.

The principal of the 1,472-student North High School, Darlene LeDoux, ordered the removal of the Mexican flag after the school received phone calls from people saying they were coming to the school to tear the flag down themselves.

In an effort to calm the situation, Denver Superintendent Jerry Wartgow held a press conference Aug. 20 at which he released a memo he had sent to the district’s principals outlining the proper and improper use of flags in classrooms.

The letter, citing federal and state laws on the subject, specified that foreign flags were only permitted in classrooms if they “are instructional or historic in nature or student work products used as part of a lesson.”

According to Mr. Stevens, the social studies teacher who hung the flags was teaching a lesson on relations between the United States and Mexico.