HOUSTON — A high-school principal who raised the Mexican flag on a campus flagpole as a show of support for Hispanic students was disciplined yesterday as the school district grappled with massive student walkouts.
Robert Pambello, principal of John H. Reagan High School in Houston, received “appropriate disciplinary action,” said Terry Abbott, a spokesman for the Houston Independent School District, adding that no details would be released because it was a personnel matter.
Mr. Abbott said the principal was attempting to avert a walkout sparked by the debate over immigration reform in Congress by agreeing to raise the distinctive red, green and white flag Wednesday in exchange for students’ staying in class.
“He was working with students at the school to try to avoid a walkout situation by raising the Mexican flag underneath the American and Texas flags,” Mr. Abbott said. “They didn’t walk out, but it was the wrong thing to do.”
Mr. Abbott, who described the principal as “a good educator with a good record,” said Mr. Pambello lowered the flag immediately after receiving word from the school district.
“As soon as word reached us, we called and told him to take it down, and he did,” the spokesman said.
The flying of the Mexican flag came during a week of protests and walkouts nationwide among Hispanic students and other critics of legislation that would erect barriers at the U.S. border with Mexico to prevent illegal entry.
In Houston yesterday, Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra urged students to stay in school after 1,400 left classes over a three-day period, and suggested that they stage rallies before or after classes instead. Police arrested 26 student protesters yesterday for curfew violations.
Those who continue to walk out will be “severely disciplined,” Mr. Abbott said. The district has 208,000 students, 58 percent of whom are Hispanic.
Flying the Mexican flag has become a flash point, particularly in border states, among those who feel overwhelmed by the number of foreigners illegally entering the United States. In Houston, the flag-flying episode fueled a backlash on local talk radio among callers who saw the move as an attack on U.S. sovereignty.
“I don’t like having any foreign flag shoved in my face while someone tries to bully me into doing something,” KTRH-AM talk-show host Chris Baker said.
Raul Ramos, a history professor at the University of Houston, called the furor “overblown,” saying that displaying the Mexican flag alongside the U.S. flag historically has been regarded as a symbol of partnership.
“Flying the flag is a ceremonial practice. In this case, the Mexican flag has nothing to do with citizenship or politics; it has to do with ethnic pride,” Mr. Ramos said.
Even so, he said he received a half-dozen critical e-mails after similar comments on the flag incident appeared recently in the Houston Chronicle.
“I’ve got one that says, ‘You should be fired and sent back to Mexico,’” said Mr. Ramos, who was born in the United States.