(ASHEBORO, N.C.) — A North Carolina high school student was denied his diploma for wearing a Mexican flag over his graduation gown.
Ever Lopez draped a Mexican flag over his blue gown at Asheboro High School’s graduation ceremony Thursday night.
Livestreamed video footage from the ceremony shows the principal ask him to take the flag off. After an unsuccessful attempt to take it off, he was handed his diploma holder, which the other students also received. But after walking across the stage, he was denied his actual diploma.
The incident has sparked outrage and led to a protest outside the school Friday. However, the school district insists that Lopez’s actions “violated the ceremony’s dress code” and “the incident is not about the Mexican flag.”
Lopez said he wore the flag to honor his family as he’s the first to graduate from high school in his immediate family.
“I just gotta represent,” Lopez said to the Courier-Tribune. “I did it for my family. They came over here to give me a better future.”
Lopez and his parents were called to Principal Penny Crooks’ office to speak about the incident and he was told he could receive his diploma if he apologized for the situation, the paper reported.
“I ain’t apologizing for nothing,” Lopez said following the encounter to the paper. “It’s you who should be apologizing. You’re the one doing wrong.”
Afterwards, Lopez’s family was escorted off the school property “after a request was made by Principal Crooks,” Asheboro police told ABC News. Asheboro police officers were working the graduation in “an approved off-duty capacity.”
Asheboro City schools said in a statement that the graduation dress code was shared with students ahead of time and allowed for students to decorate their graduation caps, but “the wearing of a flag of any kind is a violation of the dress code.” In livestream footage of the graduation a number of students are seen with alterations to their caps, featuring handwritten messages, drawings or flowers.
The school district said Friday in a statement that it supports “our students’ expressions of their heritage in the appropriate time and place.”
“We continue working to resolve this issue with the student and his family so that he will receive his diploma from Asheboro High School. He has worked very hard and we commend him on this great achievement. We are confident in his abilities and we know he has a bright future ahead of him,” the statement added.
In a follow-up statement the school district said: “This incident is not about the Mexican flag. Students were encouraged to express their identity by decorating their mortar boards. A number of students followed the protocol and had the Mexican flag and other representations appropriately displayed during the ceremony.”
On Friday a group of around 30 people gathered outside the high school to show support for Lopez, demanding he receive his diploma. An online petition has also garnered more than 73,000 signatures as of Saturday.
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