After a Florida high school football team flew a Thin Blue Line flag onto the field last week to continue honoring a student’s police officer father who had died off-duty, school administrators banned the flag from flying, following charges from some critics that the flag was “racist.”
Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach had flown the flag to honor the officer during 11 games of the 2019 season before flying it again last week when Fletcher played a game against Fleming Island. The flag was flown to honor Cpl. Andy Lavender, a former Jacksonville Beach police officer. He died in August 2019.
Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Zona commented, “This is a prime example where it was as innocent as can be, there is no politics involved, no us versus them, simply to honor a great man and allow his kids in the football team to honor him, and they have taken those, hijacked it and called it racism. And now the son and these kids are suffering because of it.” He added that Andy Lavender had coached some of the players in Pop Warner programs.
Some critics online branded the flying of the flag as “racist,” including this comment: “Fletcher really out here being openly racist,” as News4Jax reported. Another critic wrote, “Thin blue flag shown at Fletcher High School game; a lot of students aren’t happy.”
Local Black Lives Matter movement leader Tanisha Crisp said of the Thin Blue Line flag, “It has been used (as) racial discrimination against the black community, to put fear into the black community … Myself, the Black Lives Matter 5K team — we’ve had threats, personally, on different news articles where people said that they would bring the Blue Lives Matter flag. And they would hold rallies, and they would yell at us, and they would say racial slurs,” as First Coast News reported.
Lavender’s widow Lorie stated, “It is all about my son’s love for his dad and his memory,” adding, “He was one of a kind. He is very much missed and loved.” Her son Caelan is an offensive lineman on the football team.
Fletcher High School Principal Dean Ledford issued a statement saying:
It will always be my goal to ensure all students at Fletcher High School have the best possible educational experience to gain every opportunity for success beyond our school. A cohesive school culture in which students learn to shape and express their personal views is essential toward the accomplishment of that goal.
Since last year, a young man on our football team has been allowed to memorialize his father by carrying a flag onto the field with the team during the opening ceremonies of each game. The flag, which is known as the Thin Blue Line flag, has different meaning for different people, and rather than representing the young man’s personal feelings, it was being interpreted as a political statement of the team and of the school.
In consultation with the coaches, I determined that the act of using this flag in this personal way, while in the context of the football game opening ceremony, could easily be construed as representing a political position of our school and not just the personal feelings of the student and his teammates. Therefore, I have determined that it is no longer appropriate to continue. I am in conversation with the student and his teammates about ways they can appropriately express their personal views.
As the principal of Fletcher, I greatly appreciate our School Police, Jacksonville Beach Police, Atlantic Beach Police, Neptune Beach Police and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for their work in protecting our school and our community. As a public school, we must take great care in maintaining an objective position on various political issues.
Our action in guiding the student and his teammates to an appropriate way of expressing their personal views should only be interpreted as an action to maintain the school’s role as a venue for constructive dialogue, and not a proponent of any particular point of view.
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