ESPANOLA, N.M. (KRQE) – A middle school principal said a student was misbehaving with his friends and took things too far. The student threw an American flag out a second-story classroom window. Now the principal says the 14-year-old needs to be held accountable, but some parents say the punishment is too harsh.
“I guess I can’t believe they’re going to take such extreme measures,” said Curtis Schattschneider.
Parents and community members in Española are surprised both at what a Carlos F. Vigil Middle School student did and the punishment he’s getting.
“I am trying to hold him accountable,” said Principal Robert Archuleta.
Archuleta said four students started throwing grammar workbooks and erasers out a classroom window last month. One of the eighth grader students took it a step farther by tossing an American flag out into the snow.
“He says, ‘Because I was just messing around,’ and he started to laugh,” Archuleta said. “Then the other kids were laughing, the kids that were with him. ‘There goes the flag.’ That was his last statement.”
The principal is a veteran. His father is also a veteran who fought in World War II.
“A lot of men have died over [the flag], men and women,” Archuleta said. “We fought to keep our country safe and to keep it free.”
While the United States Supreme Court has ruled that the desecration of the flag is protected free speech, the principal cites federal law that prevents disgracing the Stars and Stripes.
The principal called the school resource officer with Rio Arriba County, but because it is a federal offense they referred him to the FBI.
“I want to report it to them because it is a federal law, so it’s in their hands,” Archuleta said.
Last week, he suspended the 14-year-old last week for 10 days, but he is recommending long-term suspension or expulsion.
“I am a firm believer in citizenship and U.S. history and our history, and these are going to be our future leaders,” Archuleta said of his students. “I want them to understand they have to take responsibility.”
Still, parents are skeptical.
“I can understand where he’s coming from because we do need to respect our American flag, but to go that far in trying to teach him a lesson, I think might even hurt him down the road,” Schattschneider said.
The eighth grader has a hearing Thursday where the principal says he will recommend more than a 10-day suspension.
Ultimately, that will be up to the district to decide.
The FBI told KRQE News 13 they haven’t yet received the complaint yet, but if a federal crime was committed they will investigate and turn the results over to the U.S. Attorney’s office.