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Students nationwide protest immigration reform

Immigration protests around the nation last week surprised people with their intensity and numbers. Thousands of students streamed out of classes waving Mexican flags. This week, a few school districts in the nation, including ones in California, Arizona and Colorado responded to the display by barring students from carrying any flags on school grounds. KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson visited Oceanside High.

On Thursday morning, in AP U.S. History class at Oceanside High School, students voiced their opinions on the flag ban that's been in place district wide all week long.

Junior Megan Raushl, who wore a t-shirt that said Peace and Love argued banning flags was the right thing to do, but she thought school officials carried it too far in barring students from carrying not only the Mexican flag, but the American flag, as well.

Raushl: "We are in America, so I don't think the American flag should be banned. And the people that are coming here from Mexico are coming here for a better life. And America is a better life. And that's what the flag stands for, so."

Classmate Veronica Herrera doesn't agree.

Herrera: "They had to ban all flags in general so students didn't feel that just Mexican flags were banned. And I don't think it's illegal to want the American dream just because certain laws have not been passed to allow them to be legal here."

Last week, disagreements like this spilled out of the classroom and turned violent.

200 students tried to break down the school gate to join protests that were taking place around San Diego County. School officials say students clashed with 80 law enforcement officers in riot gear, throwing rocks and bottles as police fired back with pepper spray pellets. School officials say students were waving flags some stars and stripes but mostly big Mexican banners.

In the end, a record 150 students were suspended. School was closed for two days.

Noonan: "And when we brought the kids back, we said 'please leave your personal flags at home. Your banners, placards and signs. And let's just try to calm things down.'"

That's Oceanside Superintendent Ken Noonan, who says the ban was mostly aimed at Mexican flags.

Noonan: "Flags of Mexico have really heightened sensitivity here and created friction between and among kids. But our attorney has told us we have to be fair and equitable and treat all children the same. So we've said don't bring any flags."

But the ban has not flown with angry callers across the country.

Hundreds have rung the school to express their outrage that the district would dare ban students from bringing the American flag to school.

School administrators have assured the callers the American flag is still in every classroom and students are still reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

That's the case in the U.S. History class, where three U.S. flags and the preamble to the Constitution hang on the wall.

But the in-school pledge is not enough for two Oceanside residents who stood on the street corner outside the school waving a large American flag.

Candi Echols and Anita Romaine say they're angry because they feel like the schools are preventing American students from standing up for the United States.

Echols & Romaine: "There's plenty of military families in this town that have shed a lot of blood for this flag. I'm going to get emotional. But this is our flag. This is America. They want to live in America, then they stand by our flag.

That sentiment is common, says Carol Marvin Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication. She says since the Civil War, the American flag has been a very a emotional symbol of nationalism.

But, she adds, flags from other countries have also played an important role.

Marvin: "Immigrants have always waved flags, they're own originating country flags in parades and various kinds of identity-based gatherings in the United States. That's part of what we do in the United States is signal our visibility. . whoever we are."

The legality of the school district's decision to ban that behavior is being investigated by the ACLU in San Diego.

Meanwhile, the Oceanside School District says the ban has quelled the tension and the plans to lift it on Monday.

That same day, immigrants' rights groups are planning protests around the country and no doubt, plenty of flag waving.

Amy Isackson, KPBS News.

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