MORGAN HILL -- Standing silently at attention Monday morning -- Cinco de Mayo -- almost 50 self-described "Patriots" held tall U.S flags in front of a high school still at the center of a public debate over free speech and cultural pride.
"We're just here to support the First Amendment's right to free speech," said Georgine Scott-Codiga, president of the Gilroy Morgan Hill Patriots group. She spoke after the protest in front of Live Oak High School. "Cinco de Mayo is a circumstance of the issue. The issue is free speech."
By the end of the school day one student called the entire tense, discomforting protest by three groups of adults, "completely unnecessary."
Although most students at Live Oak were shielded behind a fence installed today in preparation for protests, student Ethan Cox, 17, spoke with members of the media and told them that today's students are tired of the events from four years ago that have spurred so much attention and stress today.
"There is absolutely no racial tension at Live Oak High School," said Cox who described the events in school as, "just like any other day."
Later tonight, a group of Latino school parents and community leaders plan their own gathering. Their argument has been that the show of U.S. flags implies Mexican Americans and other Latinos cannot be patriotic and proud of their heritage at the same time. In the emotional run-up to Monday, the Latino group decided against a counter demonstration in front of the school that might have led to trouble between the two groups.
Apparently not taking any chances, school officials put up a long, tarped fence in front of the main entrance at Live Oak. Nearly all students arrived by car after passing checkpoints manned by school guards. Morgan Hill police officers were stationed outside and inside the school.
In between those polar groups, a third cadre of motorcycle riding protesters showed up in time to be at the school when students were dismissed. The riders, a mystery for weeks to school and police authorities in Morgan Hill, were all carrying large, American flags. Bill Roller, president of the group, said they were part of the "2 Million Bikers," that massively converged on Washington D.C. last September 11, 2013. The bikers from around the country rolled into D.C. as a counter protest to "The Million Muslim March, " which organizers later revised to, "Million American March Against Fear."
But while the D.C. "March," petered out on that 12th anniversary of the infamous terrorist attacks, the "Bikers," overwhelmed the capital city with a massive show of people and machines. On Monday afternoon in Morgan Hill, only two dozens riders showed up and gathered outside Live Oak High as supporters of the constitution and especially the First Amendment. Still, they said they were determined to make sure the kids at Live Oak were not harmed today in any way.
In their one overt show, the Bikers moved near as allowed to a tall, non-see-through fence and they burst into a very loud singing of the National Anthem.
Roller says after the students come out of school, the Bikers will disperse and that there will not be a ride around the town as rumored last week.
The demonstration stemmed from a 2010 Cinco de Mayo celebration on campus when four boys showed up wearing US flag T shirts, proclaiming it was a show of American pride. Some Latino students took it as a cultural slap and tempers flared. School officials ordered the boys to turn the shirts inside out or go home.
That order sparked a national debate over free speech and ethic pride. A federal court ruled in February, almost four years later, that campus safety outweighed the student's First Amendment's claims.
Cox, the student, said he agreed with the court's decision by intoning, "just because you have the right to free speech doesn't mean you have to use it."
Kendall and Joy Jones, The parents of one of the American flag-wearing boys, have filed an appeal of the decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court. They argue that the school was wrong to read the flag T-shirts as an incitement to violence and that the wrong students were punished.
"You deal with the perpetrators of violence, not the objects of violence," Kendall Jones said. "That's why this is upside down" He and his wife held up a cross made of four-by-four inch construction lumber and attached U.S. and Mexico flags over it.
"We're Christians. God loves all people, Kendall Jones said. "We're here to day we're not against any race" Joy Jones said their son, Daniel Galli is now 20 and enrolled at the University of Nevada at Reno, where is studying for a career in military law.
Scott-Codiga and others in her group bristled at the question of race. She said she is half Mexican.
"What am I supposed to do, hate my own people?" She said. "I feel like we stood up for our rights. We did not allow the fear-mongers to dictate to us." Mihai Bulea, a Romanian immigrant and member of the group, said school officials and the 9th Circuit overreached in the flag T-shirt decision.
"That's very different than yelling fire in a theater," he said. "There should never be a day in America when a citizen is told he cannot wear a shirt with the American flag."
Morgan Hill school superintendent Steve Betando, who patrolled the sidewalk and school during the demonstration, said students and staff had moved beyond the controversy. He said no extra, flag-related restrictions of any kind were in force Monday on campus.
"This is not a divided school," he said. "It's a very united school."
As for flags, young Cox said he saw no flags at school on Monday of any kind.
David E. Early contributed to this report. Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767 and follow him on Twitter.com/JoeRodMercury.