Students at York Comprehensive High School got a lesson in the power of peaceful protest last week, when a flap concerning an American flag on a pickup truck went viral.
More than 70 vehicles showing American flags participated in the May 14 protest, organized after school officials removed an American flag and another flag from the bed of a pickup driven by senior Peyton Robinson, 18.
By mid-day, the school district responded and said it would reconsider its stance.
School officials said their concern with Robinson’s flag was driver safety, not the display of patriotism. They said large flags, such as the ones he was flying, can be a hazard because they flap in the wind and can block visibility of other drivers.
But the York school district was right to reconsider its position on the American flag in the face of such strong and patriotic community sentiment.
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. For about a month, he said, nobody complained as he drove back and forth to school from McConnells – an American flag on one side, a POW/MIA flag on the other.
As often is the case, however, a problem arose when someone complained to the school about Robinson’s flags.
Robinson said a school administrator told him to take the flags down. He said he was later pulled out of class and told to meet an administrator in the parking lot, where he found school officials had laid the flags down in his truck.
When Robinson complained about the school’s stance on social media, the community organized the protest. They paraded through York in vehicles bearing flags, then gathered outside the school for hours, waving the flags. Local news outlets picked up on the protest, and the story made national news.
By mid-day, the York school district changed its stance, and 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.”
Ron Roveri, an administrator in charge of the parking lot, said the school has had a standing policy against flags of any sort for years because of the safety issue.
And the safety concern is a legitimate one, given the size of some flags and the heavy traffic on S.C. 5 Bypass outside the school. A large flag flapping in the wind from the back of a truck can make it hard for other drivers to see.
After the protest, however, Roveri said school officials met with student government leaders to consider a revision. He said the revised policy will be in line with what is permitted by the S.C. Department of Transportation.
We think the school district responded in an appropriate way to the protest. There should be a place for patriotism in education, and it should not require a sacrifice in safety.
We hope a compromise can allow for patriotic displays among students who feel compelled to fly an American flag without posing a hazard to other drivers.