Dozens of students and adults paraded through York early Thursday, waving American flags early before lining up for hours outside York Comprehensive High School to protest the school’s ordering a student to remove a flag from the back of his pickup.
School officials initially said the flag posed a safety concern, as it could block the view of other drivers.
By midday Thursday, however, they had announced on the school district’s website an exception “for the American flag, as long as the size of the flag does not create a driving hazard.”
“We appreciate the passion and pride of all who have called or come by YCHS over the past 24 hours,” the statement read. “America was founded by patriots who led positive change in a myriad of ways. We believe today is a great example of peaceful demonstration leading to positive change.
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“This is the very process we advocate in our Social Studies classrooms and the fabric of American citizenship. Thank you for helping us as we educate the students of our community.”
More than 70 vehicles participated in the protest, which was organized after school officials removed an American flag from the bed of a pickup owned by senior Peyton Robinson, 18.
Passions were running high Thursday morning, before school officials changed their stance.
“It just means a lot to me to be out here doing this,” said Keith Lyon of York, who parked on S.C. 5 outside the school and waved a large flag as traffic passed. His father was a World War II veteran, Lyon said, and he wanted to show his patriotism.
April Rumfelt of McConnells flew two flags from the bed of a truck parked outside the school with her brother, Joseph Hinson. Rumfelt said her daughter wants to join the Army, and she believes that students should have the right to display a flag.
“They’ve been flying the flag on the back of their trucks for years, and nothing’s ever been said about it,” Rumfelt said. “I don’t think our children should be taught that they shouldn’t fly the flag and be proud of where they’re from.”
Rumfelt and Lyon said they do not believe an American flag flying on a truck bed poses a safety problem.
“They shouldn’t have done that,” Lyon said. “It was wrong.”
James Hicks, a veteran who participated in the protest, said he wanted to show his support for students who want to show the flag.
“I fully support what the kids are doing,” he said.
Protesters gathered in the parking lot of the Bi-Lo grocery store in York, then made their way down Congress Street and around the S.C. 5 bypass before parking in front of the high school. As protesters waved their flags, many passing cars and trucks honked in approval.
Robinson said he just wanted to express his patriotism when he posted two flags on either side of the bed of his 1990 GMC Sierra. He didn’t think anyone would have a problem with it.
For about a month, he said, nobody complained as he drove back and forth to school from his home in McConnells – an American flag waving in the breeze on one side, a POW/MIA flag flapping on the other.
When he arrived at school on Wednesday, though, Robinson said a school administrator told him to take the flags down, saying someone had complained about them. He was later pulled out of class and told to meet an administrator in the parking lot, he said, where he found school officials already had removed the flags.
“They took them down and laid them in the bed of the truck,” Robinson said. “I don’t think they should have touched my truck without my permission.”
Once he got home, Robinson said, he replaced the flags in their flying positions. Then he starting venting about the incident to his friends on social media.
By Thursday morning, residents were rallying around the teen and his right to fly the flag.
“I’m not trying to prove a point,” Robinson said, “but I’m a U.S. citizen, and I have the right to fly the flag if I want to.”
York schools spokeswoman Maria Duncan said Wednesday that the issue wasn’t that Robinson was flying a flag but that any flag on a vehicle posed a safety hazard.
“For safety reasons, it is a violation for vehicles to have flags mounted on them,” Duncan said. “It has nothing to do with being an offensive act. Students were told that their patriotism was appreciated, but having a flag flying on the back of the vehicle in the parking lot at YCHS is a violation of school rules related to safety.”
Ron Roveri, director of the Floyd D. Johnson Technology Center, manages the school parking lot. He said the school has a “standing policy” that drivers who have a flag on their vehicles must lay the flag down in the vehicle.
Many of the flags are large, Roveri said, and they block the view of others drivers on the bypass, which is busy with traffic before and after school.
“It’s a major issue as far as obstruction of view,” Roveri said about the flags. “That’s the way it’s always been handled, from day one.”
Roveri said Robinson had two large flags hanging from a PVC hinge in his truck bed.
Robinson said a school administrator told him and his mother that flying the flags violated the school’s student driver and parking policy, but he couldn’t find any prohibition on flags in the student handbook, and no explicit rule on flags is listed in the policy posted on the school’s website.
Roveri said the handbook states vehicles can’t be operated in an unsafe manner. He said “flagging” is prohibited in a separate part of the policy.
Roveri said the revised policy allowing American flags if they don’t create a driving hazard will be in line with regulations published by the S.C. Department of Transportation.
The school district said Thursday that Robinson and the other students involved in the morning protest won’t face any disciplinary action. Duncan said administrators at York Comprehensive and members of the student council are now collaborating to resolve the issue.
Even before the question arose of whether or how he could be punished for continuing to fly the flag, Robinson had made up his mind about how he planned to handle the situation.
“I’ve always been taught to stand up for what’s right,” he said.
Jennifer Becknell • 803-329-4077
Bristow Marchant • 803-329-4062