High School District Superintendent William S. Hart Union said the Saugus High School football team can no longer use the “thin blue line” flag during games during its pre-game ceremonies, echoing a decision made by the team coach.
The decision has created an emotional debate and tension between community members, administrators, school board members, players and students.
The flag is a black and white replica of the American flag with a single horizontal blue line and has become a symbol with various meanings. Some see it as a way to support law enforcement. Others see it as a symbol to fight the Black Lives Matter movement and a symbol used by white supremacist and extremist groups.
Hart District Superintendent Mike Kuhlman said in a letter sent to the community that the use of the flag has become controversial.
“Just three days ago I became aware of a concern regarding this symbol being used at Saugus High School football games,” Kuhlman wrote in the letter dated Wednesday. ‘not caught in a specific timeframe, we decided to take our time to understand the problem accurately and respond thoughtfully.’
Saugus High principal Geni Peterson Henry told the Los Angeles Times that she met with football coach Jason Bornn, who said he “wasn’t even fully aware of the banners in question” and added that the team had not agreed to use the flag before games.
“…(It) came to (Bornn) that it’s possible some players on the team aren’t entirely enthusiastic about a symbol being used to represent the whole team,” Kuhlman wrote.
Bornn decided to stop using the flag “in deference to his commitment to inclusivity, kindness and respect…”, reported the Times.
Kuhlman wrote in his letter to the community that the district was exploring alternative methods to show support for law enforcement.
“Please note that this decision does not translate to a change in law enforcement support,” Kuhlman wrote. “The degree of enthusiasm behind our district’s support of law enforcement is not measured by the acceptance or rejection of any particular symbol.” ‘
Hart School Board President Joe Messina said it was insulting to the district for deciding not to let the team use the flag.
“I personally believe this is a slap in the face to those who ran into danger at Saugus High School,” Messina said at a school board meeting Wednesday.
Saugus High was the site of a deadly mass shooting in 2019. The students and some members of the Saugus High football team were freshmen when the shooting occurred. It resulted in the death of three students and two injured students. The shooter committed suicide before law enforcement arrived at the school.
Stakeholders from the school board’s community expressed support for and opposition to the decision.
A speaker, who said she was a 28-year veteran of the LAPD, said she was appalled and upset by the decision to stop using the flag.
Another speaker, a parent of Saugus Public Schools students, said there were “a thousand more ways” to show support for law enforcement.