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Española middle-schooler in trouble for throwing flag

SANTA FE – An Española middle school student has been suspended and faces possible expulsion, and his case is being referred to the FBI after he grabbed a United States flag from its wall holder and threw it out a school window.

The incident happened on Jan. 20 during an eighth-grade afternoon class that was being taught by a substitute teacher at the Carlos F. Vigil Middle School, principal Robert Archuleta said in an email.

The male student, 14, “admitted he was just messing around as his only excuse,” Archuleta said.

The substitute teacher did not write up the incident until this week when she reported it to the class’ regular teacher, who then informed Archuleta, and he started an investigation.

The student has been suspended for 10 days and “will be susceptible for expulsion from school in front of our hearing officer,” Archuleta said.

“I talked to the students about the importance about the incident, and I received a large number of statements from his classmates that provided me with the name of the individual,” Archuleta said via email.

Archuleta said he would try to contact the FBI in Santa Fe on Friday. The Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office is also referring the incident to federal authorities.

Archuleta cited a section of federal law about desecration of the American flag. “Whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both,” says U.S. Code 700.

The section is rarely enforced, according to online legal sites, and the United States Supreme Court has ruled that desecration of the flag is protected free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

But the Supreme Court’s ruling possibly doesn’t apply if the flag is not owned by the person who has desecrated it or if the desecration wasn’t intended to make some kind of statement.

U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez on Friday had no comment when asked if the flag-throwing incident could rise to the level of a federal prosecution.