ASHEBORO, NC – When Ever Lopez decided to fly a Mexican flag at his graduation ceremony, he hoped to support his culture. Lopez didn’t expect anyone to react violently, but because of the flag, Lopez was denied his diploma.
At the Asheboro High School graduation ceremony Thursday night, Lopez said he carried the flag and draped it over his shoulders while he sat. Lopez said he was sitting near teachers and no one mentioned the flag until he reached the stage.
“I just have to represent,” explains Lopez, “I did it for my family. You came here to give me a better future. ”
As the first graduate in his immediate family, the ceremony had a special meaning for Lopez.
When his name was called, he took the stage, ready to receive his diploma. However, the principal did not want to hand it over to him and spoke to him in a low voice while a line of students waited behind him. After a few seconds he left the stage without his diploma.
“I was very excited myself and had to hold back my emotions because we are in a public area. We had a lot of people who had our eye on us, ”said Lopez’s cousin Adolfo Hurtado.
Lopez said the administration told him he was a distraction, but a statement from Asheboro City Schools said he did not adhere to the dress code.
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“At the heart of the problem is the fact that the student did not adhere to the established dress code for the event and undermined the meaning and solemnity of the ceremony,” a statement from Asheboro City Schools said. “Our dress code serves to preserve the dignity of the event and to do justice to all students. Graduation is a milestone event and it is grossly unfair for a person to belittle the event by violating the dress code. “
The school’s statement also stated that the rejection of Lopez’s diploma was not about the Mexican flag and that other students had flags on their graduation caps and were not punished. Photos and reports from the ceremony show other students wearing stoles displaying the Mexican flag and these students receiving their diplomas.
An email school principal Penny Crooks sent to students prior to the ceremony explained the dress code and said male students should wear a dress shirt and dress pants and female students should wear a dress, skirt or dress pants and no flip -Flops or tennis shoes are allowed. The email also states that clothing should conform to the school district dress code. The school’s email and dress code do not mention that flags are prohibited clothing or say that students are not allowed to wear anything over their clothes.
After the ceremony, Lopez and his parents were called to Crooks’ office to discuss the situation.
Crooks said he could get his diploma if he apologized for the situation, Lopez said.
“I don’t apologize for nothing,” Lopez told the Courier-Tribune after the encounter. “You should apologize.
His mother, Margarita Lopez, shouted, “It’s not fair to me. This is something for racists. “
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After their meeting, police escorted Lopez and his family out of the building. Robbie Brown, asst. The Asheboro Police Department chief of police said the officers were on site throughout the ceremony and had not dispatched any more officers to the graduation ceremony. Officials escorted Lopez from the property at the principal’s request, Brown said.
At 3 p.m. on Friday, Lopez had not yet received his diploma. His mother said she received a call from the school and that she would arrange a meeting next week to discuss the situation. The school offered to meet on Friday afternoons, but Margarita Lopez said she preferred to wait so she could have others with her so that she could have a decent translator since English is not her first language.
On Friday afternoon, a group of about 30 people gathered outside Asheboro High School to support Lopez. Some in the group held signs saying “Free Evers Diploma” or “Honk If You Are Not Racist” and others draped Mexican flags over their shoulders as Lopez did during his graduation. Cars honked down the street every few minutes in support of their cause.
Jessica Estrada, an Asheboro High School student, also attended the demonstration in support of Lopez.
“I can’t imagine how his mom is feeling right now, considering that he just wanted to show where he’s from and show his pride. He worked hard to get something that means so much to so many immigrant parents. The fact that she refused to give it to him – it’s messed up, ”said Estrada.
The incident sparked a firestorm on social media with comments on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Tiktok. Lopez supporters have started a petition on Change.org entitled “Give this man his diploma” with over 40,000 signatures by Friday afternoon.
“Now I feel joy because everyone supports me,” said Lopez.
Asheboro City Schools said after graduating on Thursday that they are re-evaluating the dress code. A representative from Asheboro City Schools was unavailable on Friday for comment beyond the school district’s published statements.
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