A North Carolina high school student said he was denied his diploma at his graduation ceremony for wearing a Mexican flag over his gown.
Ever Lopez draped a Mexican flag over his blue gown at Asheboro High School's graduation ceremony Thursday night.
Livestreamed video footage from the ceremony shows the principal ask him to take the flag off. After an unsuccessful attempt to take it off, he was handed his diploma holder, which the other students also received. But after walking across the stage, he was denied his actual diploma.
Lopez told ABC News, "When I got up there I went for the handshake and I wasn't thinking nothing of it and I heard her say, 'You can't wear that.' And I was in shock and confused. I was like, 'What?' She was like, 'The flag. You can't wear that.'"
The incident has sparked outrage and led to a protest outside the school Friday. However, the school district insists that Lopez's actions "violated the ceremony's dress code" and "the incident is not about the Mexican flag."
Lopez said he wore the flag to honor his family as he's the first to graduate from high school in his immediate family.
"It means everything to me," Lopez told ABC News of wearing the Mexican flag. "My parents, my whole family, is from over there. I did it for them because they had a rough childhood; they didn't get the scholarship that I got, or they didn't get to go to school like I did. So ... representing my flag and getting a diploma was really important to me because I was basically doing it for my family."
Lopez said that Asheboro high school asked him to apologize as a condition of receiving his diploma.
"I don't know why I should apologize, when it should be heard, because I did nothing wrong," Lopez said.
In a statement to ABC News on Sunday, the Asheboro city school district said that Lopez's diploma has been available for pick up since Friday and that an apology has never been requested, expected or required.
After the graduation, Lopez's family was escorted off the school property "after a request was made by Principal [Penny] Crooks," Asheboro police told ABC News. Asheboro police officers were working the graduation in "an approved off-duty capacity."
Lopez said he has still yet to receive his diploma.
Asheboro City schools said in a statement that the graduation dress code was shared with students ahead of time and allowed for students to decorate their graduation caps, but "the wearing of a flag of any kind is a violation of the dress code." In livestream footage of the graduation, a number of students are seen with alterations to their caps, featuring handwritten messages, drawings or flowers.
The backlash to the incident has led to the school receiving threats, according to authorities.
The superintendent said an employee received a threatening email on Friday that said "I’m gonna shoot up this school if you don’t give that young man his diploma," according to the Asheboro Police Department.
"The Asheboro Police Department is investigating 9 additional emails, for a total of 10, that have been sent to school employees via email threatening violence against the school and/or the employee," the department said in a statement.
The school district said Friday in a statement that it supports "our students' expressions of their heritage in the appropriate time and place."
"We continue working to resolve this issue with the student and his family so that he will receive his diploma from Asheboro High School. He has worked very hard and we commend him on this great achievement. We are confident in his abilities and we know he has a bright future ahead of him," the statement added.
In a follow-up statement the school district said: "This incident is not about the Mexican flag. Students were encouraged to express their identity by decorating their mortar boards. A number of students followed the protocol and had the Mexican flag and other representations appropriately displayed during the ceremony."
Lopez told ABC News no one ever discussed that bringing a flag wouldn't be permitted.
On Friday, a group of around 30 people gathered outside the high school to show support for Lopez, demanding he receive his diploma. An online petition has also garnered more than 73,000 signatures as of Saturday afternoon.
"Well, it's crazy. I didn't expect it, all the community to come together like that," Lopez said of the support. "I was just walked out of school. I was kind of like down. I was like, 'Dang man I didn't get my diploma and stuff.' ... It is crazy because the next day I woke up and I had people calling me, saying, 'Oh man, you got interviews, you got interviews, you got interviews.' And I'm like, 'What?' And then what shocked me the most, other than the interviews, was the protest at my school because I didn't know about that."