DENAIR — Cody Alicea looked a little unnerved as he approached his bicycle Friday afternoon.
The 13-year-old walked into a clutch of news crews, drawn to Denair Middle School after a school employee’s request that Cody remove an American flag from his bike attracted national headlines. The district reversed its stance Friday.
“I didn’t think it would cause this much attention,” Cody said after unlocking his flag-festooned bicycle. “No one has told me (today) I can’t fly the flag.”
Edward Parraz, superintendent of the Denair Unified School District, said that a campus supervisor asked Cody to remove the flag earlier this week out of concern for his safety.
Those concerns arose from a dust-up among students last school year after some racial tensions arose when Latino students brought Mexican flags to school around Cinco de Mayo.
“It’s one of those things that the campus supervisor was thinking in the best interest of Cody and it backfired on her,” Parraz said Friday. “I think it was the right decision with the wrong result. She feels miserable.”
Cody has had the flag on his bike since beginning of the school year and it was coincidental that it became a problem during the week of Veterans Day, which Parraz said is “the issue that made this look like Denair is the worst thing in the world.”
An online search Friday showed 33 different articles regarding the incident, ranging from local TV to news stations in Texas and Oklahoma. An item was posted on the Web page of conservative syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin, and a video on YouTube generated more than 300 views.
District officials have received thousands of calls, e-mails and faxes. Some were unpleasant, but “there was some good constructive stuff,” Parraz said.
He said there were people who thought “no matter what (freedom of speech) should have been the first and foremost thing we should have protected, but there are safety concerns, too.”
Parraz said the district has scheduled a special school board meeting Sunday to discuss how to defuse the situation, and is preparing a letter to the community.
Parents and community members, in the meantime, developed their own plan to walk students to school on Monday morning, flags flying high.
“We want to show the nation that this isn’t Denair,” said Cassie Olson, who is helping to organize the walk. Wearing red, white and blue, the parents will escort children down Main Street to the Lester Road middle and high schools.
“I live here. This is my town,” she said.
Though Olson’s children are grown up, she is concerned that people hearing about Cody’s story will think Denair — an unincorporated community of a little less than 4,000 people east of Turlock — is anti-American.
Anyone driving down Lester Road on Friday afternoon would not have gotten that impression. Red, white and blue mixed with the schools’ signature color of purple as students at both schools showed their support for Cody.
“They were all willing to get suspended for this,” said Shonda Elgin, whose daughter goes to Denair High.
As for Cody (who wore a dusky blue hoodie), he seemed a little overwhelmed by the response, which included honks and waving from people who saw him riding his bike to school Friday morning. Though he said he never felt threatened by any students, he had heard rumors that there were concerns for his safety.
“I didn’t want to make it an issue,” he said. “I just like flying the country’s flag.”
Before getting on his bike for a well-documented ride out of the parking lot, Cody also expressed sympathy for Parraz.
“It feels nice that people are on my side,” he said. “But I don’t want anyone against him.”
Bee assistant librarian Karen Aiello contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at 578-2343 and Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at 578-2366.