Four California high school students claimed they were suspended for wearing patriotic bandanas and chanting “USA! USA!” during a school basketball game.
It happened last week at a game between rivals Camarillo High School and Rio Mesa High School in Ventura County, the Ventura County Star reported. The Rio Mesa students said a Camarillo associate principal warned spectators in the stands not to curse or make racial comments, then saw their bandanas and told them to either remove them or leave.
The four students went outside, then ran back in at halftime wearing the bandanas and leading a chant of “USA! USA!” according to the newspaper. That’s when they were escorted out and said they were handed five-day suspensions — punishments that were later lifted.
“We’ve done it always,” Austin Medeiros told the Star of wearing the bandanas. “It’s something we do. It’s the same group of friends. We always talk about it. We’re all very patriotic.”
Camarillo High principal Glenn Lipman disputed the students’ claim that they were suspended, but said they were asked to leave the campus. He told the Star that asking them to remove their bandanas was a precaution because of the diverse student bodies of both high schools. The schools each have large Hispanic populations.
Oxnard Union School District Superintendent Gabe Soumakian backed the principal, telling Fox News there were “racial overtones” to the “USA!” chant.
“There was symbolism there with the bandana and the chant,” Soumakian said, claiming it had “nothing to do with being patriotic or unpatriotic.”
“It has to do with the fact that they are making a chant regarding that we are from the USA and you’re not. Whether that’s the implied intent, that’s the way it comes across,” he said.
Soumakian also told Fox that chanting “USA!” does not comply with state athletic guidelines.
“They have to respect everyone,” he said. “When you go to a game – you cheer for your team and you don’t make any derogatory comments or make inappropriate comments toward the other team.”
Though the students’ punishments were lifted, Soumakian said the incident isn’t over.
“As a superintendent I think we need to pursue this further,” he said. “We need to work with teachers and students and the community about the concept of cultural proficiency.”
It’s not the first time a “USA! USA!” chant has been deemed inappropriate by school officials. Last year, Texas school officials filed a complaint after supporters of a rival team broke into the chant after clinching a regional championship.