CHARDON, Ohio — Following the controversy sparked by a football player carrying a "thin blue line" American flag on the football field Friday night, Chardon Local Schools Superintendent Michael Hanlon Jr. has banned the flag in a school setting.
In a statement to the community, Hanlon said the incident understandably drew responses on social media and direct communications to district officials.
Based on discussions that ensued over the weekend, it does not appear that this action was motivated by racism, rather a show of support for one of our coaches who serves as a police officer, as well as for the first responders in our community who have developed a special relationship with our school and students in the wake of our school tragedy of February 27, 2012. Nevertheless, it is understandable how this could be interpreted as a racially-motivated action and, therefore, not acceptable in a school community.
Our school district is fundamentally anti-racist as reflected in Board of Education policies ranging from Equal Employment Opportunity to matters of student and staff activities. Our goal is to ensure that all students, staff and community members are provided the same opportunities to grow and learn in Chardon Schools and that this occurs in an environment that values the contributions of every school community member. Our staff members work to support that goal in our classrooms and through lessons learned within the scope of extracurricular activities.
Hanlon said school district policy does not permit engagement in political activity, and as a result, the "thin blue line" flag will not be a part of any future pre-game activities at Chardon athletic events.
The “thin blue line flag” is considered a symbol of support and solidarity with members of law enforcement. For decades it’s been used to celebrate police officers, but in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and its call to end police brutality against people of color, the flag has taken on a different meaning for some, according to Politico Magazine.
The district said it’s working on a plan with the athletic director to review any pre-game displays for possible connections to any form of discrimination or particular political views.
The district is committed to an atmosphere that respects and values every individual within our school community and is in the process of engaging with an equity/organizational development consultant to review policies, practices and systems throughout the district. The goal of this work will be to improve awareness and to develop specific strategies that will enable us to move forward effectively.
As a school district we absolutely recognize the significant impact of this event and the discussion that occurred in our community in the following days. It will be important for us to use this as a learning opportunity and to grow stronger as a school district.
On Tuesday, Chardon Police Chief Scott Niehus posted the statement below to the department's Facebook page:
The Chardon Board of Education released the following statement:
Chardon Local School District values and respects the police and all first responders. Our relationship with our local officers is stronger than most, given their fast response and the bravery they demonstrated on February 27, 2012 and in the aftermath of that tragedy.
We greatly value our partnership with local law enforcement and first responders. We agree with Chardon Police Chief Scott Niehus’ statement that the Thin Blue Line flag is perceived differently by different people. For some, it has political meaning.
The Chardon Board of Education would like to make it clear that we are in full support of Dr. Hanlon’s and the Administration’s decision regarding the football team’s display of the Thin Blue Line flag on the field at last week’s football game. Because it was displayed as part of a pre-game ceremony under the supervision of school staff, it was construed as sanctioned by the school district. Political activity by staff members is not allowable under Board of Education policy.
Our support for Dr. Hanlon and the District policy prohibiting political speech by staff members does not diminish the District’s support and appreciation for police and all first responders.
We understand that the team’s intent was simply to support our community first responders. We also understand that this action evoked immediate concerns from some members of our local community.
The Chardon Board of Education respects and values all points of view and has a responsibility to create a safe and inclusive environment for all students. The Administration’s decision regarding this event, and the directive to have a teacher remove a “Black Lives Matter” backdrop from the virtual classroom, are both in keeping with district policy.
Dr. Hanlon and our administrators have been working tirelessly all summer to make sure our students and staff are able to come back safely to school. There was considerable concern that our athletes would not even be able to play at all, but they are playing and we are doing everything we can to make this school year successful. It is our hope that the community will understand both our obligation to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students and our dedication to handling this situation in keeping with school policy.
Thank you for your understanding of this sensitive issue.
Madelon Horvath, president Chardon Board of Education