NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. – Days after making national headlines, the Fletcher High School Senators are taking the field Friday night with extra attention on their game.
Administrators recently told players they could not fly a Thin Blue Lines flag before a game. The flag was being used by the team to honor a player’s father, Corporal Andy Lavender, who died unexpectedly last year.
On Friday, Duval County school leaders revealed a decal players designed that they can wear on their helmets, if they choose. It has Lavender’s initials and badge number.
The football team had been running onto the field with the pro-law enforcement flag since 2019, but it stopped after complaints about the team’s use of the symbol. Some complained it was “openly racist” and “political.”
Retired firefighter Jason Kerr was one of Lavender’s good friends. He’s been following the debate closely.
“There’s some frustration in it but then you have to be the better person and rise above the politics,” Kerr said. “You do that in honor of Andy because that’s what Andy would do.”
Shortly before kickoff, dozens showed up outside the school, many waving Thin Blue Line flags.
The dilemma has made waves across the country, with many people voicing their opinion online.
Dr. Diana Greene, the Duval County School Superintendent, supports the school principal’s decision. She wrote: “He has taken proper action based on the educational values that should be considered in the situation involving the football team’s pregame ceremonies and the Thin Blue Line flag. His actions reflect those I would expect of any principal leading through such a scenario involving any other flag or symbolic display.”
Some argue that the players have a constitutional right to fly the Thin Blue Line flag. Eric Friday is a constitutional attorney. He says there’s a fine line between free speech and student conduct.
“If the school handles it evenhandedly, if they’re doing it to prevent disruption in the classroom environment or in the school, generally, the case law says they can do that,” Friday said. “In our current environment with the election coming up, there’s obviously a lot of heightened tension, and I think the school can rely on that external factor to say we’ve got a clamp down on certain speech in the school just to prevent disruption in the school environment.”
Kerr says flag or no flag, the support for the players will be strong.
“We’re going to cheer and support the fighting Senators,” Kerr said. “That’s what Andy would want us to do.”