Principal bans player from carrying Blue Line flag to honor his dead father, so the community does it instead

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NEPTUNE BEACH, FL- Law Enforcement Today reported earlier this week on yet another high school refusing to allow a student to honor his deceased police officer father by carrying the Thin Blue Line flag onto the football field.

Our original reporting follows this update.

On Friday, people attending the football game responded. 

The Reader’s Digest version is that the principal of the Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach, Florida banned the display after it “allegedly” caused controversy this year. The player carried the flag as a tribute to his dad, Jacksonville Beach Police Department Corporal Andy Lavender, who died in August 2019. Lavender’s son plays on the football team at the school.

The principal claimed that the flag was a “political statement” attributed to the team and the school. God forbid we offend the anti-police segment of the population by honoring a dead police officer.

On Friday, the high school had a football game and as Action News Jax reported, dozens of people showed up at the game waving the Thin Blue Line flags in support of the player and his dad.

One of those who showed up was Laurie Baughan, who is retired from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and who knew Lavender for decades.

“Whether he had a badge or not, he was the best guy,” she said, while noting that she was “heartbroken” when she heard what the school’s principal had done.

“It’s almost like betrayal. To keep them from being able to honor a family member is, I think ludicrous.”

Steve Zona, president of the Fraternal Order of Police said the display had no political meaning whatsoever and instead was meant to support Lavender and his son, as well as the team.

“All this ever was was to support Andy, support his son, and support the team,” while noting that Lavender was committed to helping the community and its children.

“Everybody loved him,” Zona said. “Not only was he a police officer, he dedicated his life here at the beach to mentoring young kids for Pop Warner football, and he was also a coach here at Fletcher.”

The players on the team have now had a decal affixed to their helmets, displaying Lavender’s initials and his badge number.

The spineless Superintendent of Schools of Duval County, Dr. Diana Greene backed up the principal of the school. She claimed that by allowing the flying of the Thin Blue Line flag, it somehow represents the “educational values of the school.”

It is curious if Dr. Greene would back the flying of the Black Lives Matter flag during pregame ceremonies. Our guess is she would be behind that 100%.

Kudos to the fans in Jacksonville Beach who supported the son of a man who gave his life to serving his community. Sometimes people read too much into something.

The student was honoring his father. To stretch that out to feed the assumption that this somehow showed the team and the school to support the fantasy of “systemic racism” is a stretch of epic proportions.

For our original reporting on the situation, we invite you to:

DIG DEEPER

A son’s tribute to his deceased police officer father has spiraled into a lightning rod for controversy at a Florida high school. 

The principal at Fletcher High School banned the football team from flying a Thin Blue Line flag on the field in honor of the student’s dad, who died off-duty.

The decision by school administrators followed allegations from critics who claim that the flag is “racist.” 

News 4 Jax quoted online complaints: 

“One post read: “…Fletcher really out here being openly racist…”

Another said:

“Thin blue flag shown at Fletcher High School game, a lot of students aren’t happy.” 

But the widow of Cpl. Andy Lavender told the news outlet that the action was neither politically motivated nor motivated by race. Lorie Lavender said it was merely a way for her son, Caelen, to honor his late father.

She told News 4 Jax

“It is all about my son’s love for his dad and his memory. He was one of a kind, and he is very much missed and loved.” 

Caelan, a junior offensive lineman, started running onto the field with the flag last year after his father, a Jacksonville Police officer, died unexpectedly in August 2019. 

The high school allowed the flag to fly during eleven games last season, and again last week, before the ban.  Fletcher High School Principal Dean Ledford issued a statement to the local TV station, which reads in part: 

“In consultation with the coaches, I determined that the act of using this flag in this personal way, while in the context of the football game opening ceremony, could easily be construed as representing a political position of our school and not just the personal feelings of the student and his teammates.

Therefore, I have determined that it is no longer appropriate to continue. I am in conversation with the student and his teammates about ways they can appropriately express their personal views.” 

Dr. Diana Greene, Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, issued a statement in support of the principal’s decision on Wednesday, September 23.

She said that Ledford took “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.” 

Her statement goes on to say: 

“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.” 

Since the doubled down decision by the principal and school district, there has been new backlash on social media.  On Twitter, user Hunter Crain wrote: 

“If we allow high school kids on the other side of town to kneel during the National Anthem, then this young man gets to run on the field with a Police flag.

His rights don’t stop because of your feelings. Fletcher should be ashamed of themselves for bowing down to BLM mob.” 

That particular tweet is no longer available. 

Another user, calling herself only “Debbie” posted: 

“You certainly taught this young man who lost his father a great lesson about standing up for what is right. The high school threw this young man aside for a bunch of strangers.” 

Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Zona commented to News 4 Jax: 

“This is a prime example where it was as innocent as can be, there is no politics involved, no us versus them, simply to honor a great man and allow his kids in the football team to honor him, and they have taken those, hijacked it and called it racism, and now the son and these kids are suffering because of it.” 

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