JACKSONVILLE, Fla – The superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, Dr. Diana Greene, is seeking to clarify the district’s policy on the display of flags and banners at school-sponsored events, citing only certain entities' flags as acceptable.
“While students have the right, with certain limitations, to express themselves personally regarding social or political causes, their expression cannot occur in a manner that may be interpreted as a position of the school or the district,” Greene said in a written post to the school district’s Team Duval blog.
The post goes on to list the official flags of the United States, U.S. military branches and the state of Florida as automatically acceptable for a school to display.
The post says a school’s principal would need to approve any school spirit flags, signs or banners.
Before issuing the guidance, DCPS leaders consulted with the district’s policy and compliance office and with the office of general counsel, according to spokesman Tracy Pierce. Leaders also reviewed DCPS policy and Florida statutes.
Two weeks ago, the Fletcher High Senators made national headlines after school leaders made the decision not to allow the Thin Blue Line flag to be flown by players on the football field.
The Fletcher team had been hoisting the flag as players took the field since last year to honor Corporal Andy Lavender, the father of one of the players, who died unexpectedly. However, complaints surfaced about the use of the flag, with some saying it was “openly racist” and “political.”
The school and players reached a compromise on the issue, opting to wear a special, student-designed decal on their helmets as a tribute to the fallen corporal.
Greene issued a statement in support of the compromise Wednesday.
“With respect to the symbolism associated with other flags representing political or community issues, our role in the social dialogue is to provide the space and the academic guidance to help young men and women explore, develop, express, and defend their viewpoints,” Greene’s statement said in part. “In doing so, we facilitate their growth into productive participants in our free, representative democracy. Our role is education, not advocacy.”
The district’s move was slammed by Jacksonville Lodge 5-13 of the Fraternal Order of Police on social media.
“While we are so proud of the way this young man and his teammates have handled this and accepted progress through compromise, we remain disappointed that the same school and school board that allows political statements on face masks and other banners before football games refuse this student the ability to honor his father as they allowed in years past,” the organization said on its Facebook page. “Nevertheless, we move forward heads held high honoring our community heroes and set an example of how to properly express our rights.”
The organization shared a post from chapter President Steve Zona announcing the launch of a $2,000 memorial scholarship named after Lavender.
Pierce said the rules may also apply in the classroom, albeit on a case-by-case basis.
“An analysis of such expression in a school or classroom setting would be based on the context and the facts associated with that situation,” Pierce said in an emailed response to News4Jax’s inquiry. “For example, it may be appropriate for a teacher to display student banners and flags as a part of a school’s cultural or arts event.”
More information about district policy can be found on the DCPS website.