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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO A Mexican flag hangs from the window of a parked car Monday in the parking lot at Rogers High School.

ROGERS -- Flags no longer are allowed in the Rogers High School parking lot, at least temporarily, following a controversy at the school last week.

A student drove through the school's parking lot Thursday flying a Confederate flag. Principal Lewis Villines removed two flags -- the Confederate flag and a Mexican flag -- from vehicles in the parking lot out of concern for student safety and arguments in the lot, according to a message posted Monday on the school's website.

"In response, other students brought other flags they identify with on Friday," the message read. "In trying to maintain an environment conducive to learning, the principal next prohibited the display of other flags, and then as a result of conversations with those students, eventually all flags in the parking lot were prohibited."

Some interpreted the administration's actions as a slight against Mexican students and culture.

Edgar Soto, a 16-year-old sophomore, posted video on Facebook of a parking lot discussion Friday between Villines and students about the Mexican flags on their vehicles. Soto's post had been shared more than 3,000 times as of Tuesday.

Villines is heard in the video telling students they may fly their flags off campus but not in the school parking lot.

"So how come all flags aren't permitted?" one person is heard asking.

"Because," Villines said.

"That's it? That's the only reason?" the person asked.

"Yes, sir," Villines said.

Soto's post stated Villines had removed a friend's Mexican flag from his pickup Thursday without his permission, even though there were other vehicles in the lot with U.S. flags that weren't removed.

"Today (Friday) we all got together and put Mexican flags on our cars and drove to school together. The principal once again came out and told us all to remove our flags from our cars," Soto's post stated.

The students decided to leave as a group and park elsewhere, then walk back to school, according to Soto's post.

Rogers High School

Here’s a breakdown of Rogers High School’s enrollment as of last fall, according to Arkansas Department of Education data.

• Non-Hispanic White: 991 (43 percent)

• Hispanic: 959 (46 percent)

• Asian: 56 (3 percent)

• Non-Hispanic Black: 37 (2 percent)

• Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 27 (1 percent)

• Two or more races: 22 (1 percent)

Native American/Native Alaskan: 9 (1 percent)

Source: Arkansas Department of Education

Administrators acted out of concern about students driving recklessly to parade their flags in the parking lot and concern the flags disrupted learning "by creating a contentious atmosphere," according to the message on the school's website.

"We are sorry that the removal of the flags felt discriminatory, as that was not the intent. Looking to the future, RHS will work in partnership with the students to resolve concerns in a way that everyone feels valued. Our school community deeply respects each one of its students and values their rights," the message stated.

Villines, in an emailed message to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, further described the flag prohibition as temporary.

"Students have the right to express themselves at school up to the point that it becomes a substantial disruption, safety concern or threat, or creates a hostile environment that interferes with learning," Villines wrote.

Superintendent Marlin Berry said there won't be any policy changes because of the Rogers High School flag incident.

"This was a temporary removal by the principal due to his concerns about safety with students driving carelessly in the parking lot attempting to catch the wind with their flags," he said.

Soto, when contacted Tuesday afternoon, said he'd like Villines to give him an explanation for the flag decision. He was one of about a dozen kids who went to school Friday with Mexican flags on their cars, he said.

"What I don't understand is, we pay for a pass to park in that lot. And he was telling us to leave for something we paid for," he said.

Soto's post drew a variety of responses from Facebook users, from criticism of the principal's actions to criticism of the students for demonstrating so much pride in a country other than the United States. Comments came from people all over the country.

"I didn't think it was going to go that quickly throughout the whole country," Soto said.

Spencer Haley, a Rogers High junior, said he and some other students visited with Villines in his office Friday to discuss the issue.

"We sat down with him, had a long conversation about it," Haley said.

Any perception Villines has something against the Mexican students is false, Haley said.

"He just doesn't want flags flying from our truck. That's understandable. It causes a distraction," Haley said.

Zak Bowman, a junior, said school administrators made him remove a U.S. flag from his vehicle last week.

Hayden Hoskins, another junior, said he thinks students should be able to fly their flags, but he's fine with the administration's decision.

"Everything is worked out now. We understand" what Villines is saying, Hoskins said.

Soto said he generally feels comfortable at the school and most of the students get along well.

"I don't hear any racial comments or anything like that," he said.

Villines has worked in education for 24 years. He has been principal at Rogers High School since July 2016.

NW News on 05/16/2018

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