50 students reprimanded for celebrating Haitian Flag

Published: Updated:

IMMOKALEE, Fla. – While some may believe school is a great place to learn about cultural diversity, a group of Florida students say they were suspended for celebrating their heritage on Haitian Flag Day.

School policy forbids Florida students from wearing all but four flags: the United States flag, the state flag, the POW/MIA flag or the school flag. The policy is written in school handbooks, said Greg Turchetta of Collier County Public Schools.

“Flags can’t be worn in school during the day with the exception of American flags, POW/MIA flag, the state flag or the school flag to avoid disruption,” he said.

But parents said their students at Immokalee High School were punished with the ultimate disruption to their educations.

“Now today they sent home over 50 kids — they’re suspended. So our kids today are not getting an education; reason being because we’re trying to celebrate our day,” Melda Dupont, a 2005 graduate from Immokalee High School said.

May 18 is Haitian Flag Day. Haiti became the first independent country in Latin America and the Caribbean when it defeated France in 1804.

Students said they arrived to school wearing shirts with the Haitian Flag but were confronted by their principle who gave them the opportunity to change. Many of them refused and were suspended then sent home.

Concerned members of the Haitian community said the policy punishes students for celebrating their culture.

“You should be free to represent where you come from,” Mervilus Alverson said. “If the school doesn’t have a uniform code there should be no problem if they’re wearing a shirt.”

Collier County school officials argue that the students’ shirts were a distraction and said they were taking precautions to keep the environment conducive to end-of-the-year exams.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure the academic day is not impacted by anything,” Turchetta said. “Last year it was an issue where 200 students got up during lunch time, were playing music and being loud and then running through the halls and courtyard.”

Collier County Public Schools would not comment on the specifics of disciplinary action taken against the students, but said the principal was sympathetic but preferred the students coordinate cultural celebrations with staff.

Student Ronaldo Dheirry Cadet said he was suspended for three days. He does not understand why he was reprimanded.

“I can’t wear this shirt ’cause it has the Haitian flag on it. That’s racist. Why I can’t wear my flag today?” he said.

The students said they did not bring flags onto campus.

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