Sept. 23, 2020 – As a high school principal, one is a leader of many stakeholders holding many diverse points of view. It is no easy leadership task to negotiate times when passionately held viewpoints intersect with the life and culture of a school community.
Fletcher High School Principal Dean Ledford finds himself in such a time, and I want to express my full support for his leadership. He has taken proper action based on the educational values that should be considered in the situation involving the football team’s pregame ceremonies and the Thin Blue Line flag. His actions reflect those I would expect of any principal leading through such a scenario involving any other flag or symbolic display.
All of our schools boldly and proudly display the flags of the United States of America and the State of Florida. Many schools also display flags associated with U.S. military branches affiliated with those schools.
With respect to the symbolism associated with other flags representing political or community issues, our role in the social dialogue is to provide the space and the academic guidance to help young men and women explore, develop, express, and defend their viewpoints. In doing so, we facilitate their growth into productive participants in our free, representative democracy. Our role is education, not advocacy. To succeed in our educational mission, students holding very diverse viewpoints must know their schools are intellectually safe and accepting as they mature in their thinking and expression.
Part of that growth is for students to discover and exercise their rights to free expression as guided by the U.S. Constitution and applicable law. As strongly as I support Principal Ledford, I also support each student’s right to express their personal views. However, if that personal expression can be easily construed as the position of other stakeholders or the school, it is not an acceptable manner of expression in a school environment. This is the case with the Thin Blue Line flag, which in its matter of use, has come to imply something other than one student’s expression, but rather a position of the team and thus the school.
I join Mr. Ledford in his appreciation for our Duval County Public School Police and all our law enforcement partners. Our ability to provide the environment students need to develop academically is built upon our ability to provide for their physical safety. To our district police and police officers from our partner agencies, I thank you for your commitment and dedication to our students and staff. It is because of you — and because of our teachers, school administrators, staff, and partners – that we can provide children with an environment safe in every respect to grow into thoughtful productive citizens.