The moment she stepped off the school bus on Wednesday, Jesola Pierre said, a teacher was pointing at her and a friend. "These two," the teacher said, Pierre recalled in an interview with a Florida news station.
When all was said and done, Pierre and five of her classmates were sent home from school for wearing t-shirts with the Haitian flag and national coat of arms on Haitian Flag Day, a popular holiday on the island and in the Haitian diaspora, Collier County school officials confirmed to Fusion.
The district has not made public any additional disciplinary actions or suspensions resulting from this year's Haitian Flag Day, citing privacy concerns.
Administrators say that wearing the flags—even for a celebrated holiday—was a breach of the Collier County school district's student code of conduct. Only four flags can be worn in school, according to the code: The United States flag, the POW/MIA flag, the Florida state flag, and the school's flag.
But for the students, it felt like an affront to a celebration of their heritage.
“I felt discriminated. We weren’t allowed to wear our own shirts,” Sophomore Cassidy Previlus, who was also sent home, told the Naples Daily News. “I understand them taking bandanas, but a T-shirt?”
"My parents are from Haiti and I was born in Haiti. I should get the right to celebrate,” added Pierre.
The holiday has a particular significance for people of Haitian descent. It marks the day the first Haitian flag was flown during the slave revolt against the French that led to the nation's independence. For Haitians, it is a symbol of the nation's pride for having led the first successful slave revolt of all time, and the creation of the first black republic in the Americas.
"On Cinco de Mayo, they had all the tacos and we didn't say nothing. But when it came to Haitian Flag Day, they wanted to take away our fun," said Previlus.
In past years, say administrators, Haitian Flag Day celebrations on campus have gotten out of hand. The policy has been in place for fifteen years.
"There have been several incidents at this high school on Haitian Flag Day," Greg Turchetta, the district's executive director of communications, told Fusion. "Last year there were over 200 students going around and making noise… Yesterday we had make-up [Advanced Placement] exams going on, and we wanted to prevent any disruptions."
In other schools around the country, the wearing of flags has simmered up into controversy. A California school once went so far as banning the American flag on Cinco de Mayo, following fights between white Americans and Mexican-Americans. Last year, some schools in Tennessee banned all flags, amid a flare-up over the Confederate Flag that was dividing students. Earlier this month a school in Colorado did the same.
"The wearing or display of flags on our campuses has historically and currently caused dissension along with a potentially unsafe and hostile learning environment for our students," reads Collier County's student code.
Turchetta said that exceptions to the rule can be made at the discretion of the principal, but that no one asked for permission to bear the flag.
"The students continue to choose to do it differently with what the code of conduct dictates," he said, "but I can't tell you why that is."
“I missed school and all my classes," said Pierre. "I missed all of that for a shirt."
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.