The William S. Hart Union High School District superintendent said the Saugus High School football team can no longer use the "thin blue line'' flag at games in its pregame ceremonies, echoing a decision made by the team's coach.
The decision has created an emotional debate and tensions between members of the community, 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 combat 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 use of the flag has become controversial.
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"Just three short days ago, I became aware of a concern about this symbol being flown at Saugus High School football games,'' Kuhlman wrote in the letter dated Wednesday. "Despite emails for immediate action, and threats of consequences if certain steps weren't taken within a specific timeline, we determined to take our time to understand the issue accurately and to respond thoughtfully.''
Saugus High Principal Geni Peterson Henry told the Los Angeles Times she met with football coach Jason Bornn, who said he "was not even fully aware of the banners in question'' and added that the team did not agree to using the flag before games.
"...(It) occurred to (Bornn) that it's possible that some players on the team might not be entirely enthusiastic about a symbol that is being used to represent the entire team,'' Kuhlman wrote.
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Bornn decided to discontinue the use of the flag "in deference to his commitment to inclusivity, kindness and respect...'' the Times reported.
Kuhlman wrote in his letter to the community that the district is exploring alternative methods to show support for law enforcement.
"Please note that this decision does not translate into a change in support for law enforcement,'' Kuhlman wrote. "The degree of enthusiasm behind our District's backing of law enforcement is not measured by the acceptance or rejection of any one particular symbol.''
Hart school board president Joe Messina said it was insulting for the district to decide not to let the team use the flag.
"I believe, personally, this is a slap in the face of those who came running towards danger at Saugus High School,'' Messina said during a school board meeting Wednesday.
Saugus High was the site of a deadly mass shooting in 2019. The students and some members of the football team at Saugus High were freshmen when the shooting happened. It resulted in three student deaths and two wounded students. The gunman shot himself to death before law enforcement arrived at the school.
Speakers from the community at the school board expressed their support and opposition to the decision.
One speaker, who said she was a 28-year veteran of the LAPD, said she was dismayed and upset with the decision to stop using the flag.
Another speaker, a parent of students in Saugus public schools, said there were "a thousand other ways'' to show support of law enforcement.