A Florida high school has banned the “thin blue line flag” from its football games over fears it might be construed as a political statement by the team and the school.
Players have carried the flag on the field at Fletcher High School football games since August 2019, in memory of Jacksonville Beach Police Department Corporal Andy Lavender, whose son plays on the football team, WJAX reported.
Lavender passed away unexpectedly in August 2019, and the flag display served as a tribute to him and his service.
Now, the school is banning the display after Principal Dean Ledford said the flag could be interpreted by some as a political statement.
We wanted to make sure that as the students were trying to express themselves, that we created that environment for them where they could express themselves and honor the fallen police officer that they wanted to honor and do it where in a way that wasnt misinterpreted, Ledford said.
It did not take long for people to protest the school’s decision.
On Friday, dozens showed up to a game to wave their thin blue line flags in support of Lavender.
The team began carrying the flag onto the field last season to honor Jacksonville Beach Police Department Corporal Andy Lavender who unexpectedly passed away in 2019. His son plays on the football team and Lavender used to coach youth football. @ActionNewsJax@WOKVNewspic.twitter.com/JOhz5o8Aog
— Christy Turner (@ChristyANJax) September 25, 2020
Laurie Baughan, a retired deputy for the Jacksonville Sheriffs Office, knew Lavender for decades and was saddened when she found out the display had been banned.
Its almost like betrayal, Baughan said. To keep them from being able to honor a family member is, I think is ludicrous.
All this ever was was to support Andy, support his son, and support the team, said the Fraternal Order of Police’s Steve Zona, adding that he did not think the flag was a political statement.
The football players, however, came up with another way to honor Lavender. They designed a helmet decal, which includes the late police officer’s initials and badge number.
With the Thin Blue Line flag banned from football games, the players designed a helmet decal to honor Corporal Lavender. It includes his initials and badge number. @ActionNewsJax@WOKVNewspic.twitter.com/poz1WiAd3N
— Christy Turner (@ChristyANJax) September 25, 2020
Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene sided with the principal’s decision.
“He has taken proper action based on the educational values that should be considered in the situation involving the football teams pregame ceremonies and the Thin Blue Line flag,” Greene said. “His actions reflect those I would expect of any principal leading through such a scenario involving any other flag or symbolic display.
She added that while she supports the students’ right to freedom of expression, “if that personal expression can be easily construed as the position of other stakeholders or the school, it is not an acceptable manner of expression in a school environment.”