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Radio show helps fuel flag controversy

Jen Sansbury / The Facts | September 20 2006

FREEPORT — Velasco Elementary School's principal said he has been taken aback by a controversy that has arisen from his campus' Mexican Independence Day celebration, and he apologizes for offending parents.

During a short school assembly Friday, several parent volunteers read a pledge of allegiance to the Mexican flag. Since a parent complained on the Chris Baker show on NewsRadio 740 KTRH that afternoon, the issue has become a focal point of some Houston talk radio shows.

“It's been overwhelming,” said longtime Principal Sam Williams. “It's been a real trying ordeal and all I can say is I deeply apologize if anyone was offended by it — and I can see that they are.”

In hindsight, he said, the program should have been presented differently.

“If I had it to do all over again, we would revamp it,” Williams said. “There's no way that we would repeat it.”

Velasco Elementary has 635 students in prekindergarten through fourth grade, 65 percent of whom are Hispanic. Williams, who is black, has served as principal of the school for 18 years.

“We have stated in our mission statement that we are a campus that is a beacon of hope for a culturally diverse population,” Williams said.

At about 10 a.m. Friday, students and parents gathered in the gym for an assembly commemorating Diez y Seis de Septiembre, Sept. 16, when Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain. The school's bilingual classes from different grade levels performed songs, Williams said.Everyone was given a small Mexican flag and a group of six or seven parents recited the pledge from a script, Williams said. The students did not recite it, he said.

“My students don't even know the Mexican pledge,” Williams said. “In the minds of my little kids here at the elementary school ... they were simply holding a flag.”

He said the audience did stand as a sign of respect because that is the custom with which students are familiar.

“What we normally do is we stand for any pledge that's given,” he said. “They can only relate to the U.S. pledge and the Texas pledge.”

Baker continued talking about the incident during his radio show Tuesday afternoon. He criticized the principal for allowing anyone to recite a pledge to the Mexican flag in the midst of a national debate over illegal immigration. He also called for the principal's demotion.

“To blow it off as quote-unquote ‘historical teaching methods' either shows complete arrogance or a lack of the ability to grasp the seriousness of the illegal immigration issue to Americans,” Baker said at the beginning of his show.

The audio of Baker's broadcast is stored online at www.ktrh.com. According to the recording, on Friday a woman who said her name was Amy called in about the assembly at her daughter's school. She claimed everyone there was asked to pledge allegiance to the Mexican flag.

“Where is the sensitivity to the country and to the troops and the men and women that have fought and died for this country?” she said.

The woman said her husband served three tours of duty in Vietnam and she has a son in the war now.

“We absolutely refuse to stand up and pledge allegiance to another country's flag,” she said.

Williams said he was “devastated” that the parent who objected to the program called a radio show rather than approaching him with her concern.

“I would have graciously visited with that parent and explained on-site what the intent was,” he said. “I would have been open — I still remain open — to the parent or the parents that were in attendance for the presentation on Sept. 15, to explain.”

Brazosport ISD spokesman Stuart Dornburg pointed out that Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 is considered national Hispanic Heritage Month and Velasco's assembly was a cultural educational activity. The district values and respects diversity, he said.

“We study different cultures, that's part of the educational process,” Dornburg said. “And we do do a pledge to the American and the Texas flag every morning.”

 

 

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