Statement from Hart district superintendent on ‘Thin Blue Line’ flag

The William S. Hart Union High School District office
The William S. Hart Union High School District office
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The following is a copy of a message sent to the Saugus High School community on Wednesday evening from Mike Kuhlman, superintendent of the William S. Hart Union High School District. The Signal’s news story about the issue can be found here.

Here are two statements that are true about the Hart District: 

1) We support law enforcement and deeply appreciate their work to keep our community safe. 

2) We foster a culture of inclusivity, kindness and respect. 

Recently a controversy has arisen surrounding the practice of the “Thin Blue Line” flag being carried by the Saugus High School football team. The controversy has generated strong feelings on all sides of this issue. Many of the loudest voices appear to be suggesting that we must choose to support one or the other of these two statements – as if they are on opposite sides of a political spectrum. I’d like to suggest that it is possible for our community to actively support both statements listed above. 

Just three short days ago, I became aware of a concern about this symbol being flown at Saugus High School football games. 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’ Principal, Ms. Geni Peterson-Henry, met with her football coach to ask for background on the practice. Coach Jason Bornn shared that no vote had ever been taken by the entire team to endorse ANY particular banner. In fact, Coach Bornn, preoccupied with the responsibilities of running a varsity program, was not even fully aware of the banners in question. 

Nevertheless, Coach Bornn did a little responsible research and convened a meeting with several leaders on the football team to discuss the situation. Coach Bornn shared with me that he works hard to instill character in his players by focusing on a few specific core values. One emphasizes Unconquerable Character, which he translates into the simple maxim: “Just love people.” 

Given that some individuals have expressed concern that they interpret the Thin Blue Line flag to be divisive, it occurred to him 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. In deference to his commitment to inclusivity, kindness and respect (just loving people), and because the team never voted as a unit to carry this banner, Coach decided to discontinue this practice. 

Please note that this decision does not translate into a change in support for law enforcement. 

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. There are countless other ways for this school and our district to communicate our profound support and appreciation for the work of those charged with keeping our community safe. Saugus High School’s administration has already begun looking for alternative ways to send this message clearly. 

While many embrace the symbol as simply a celebration of law enforcement, others have shared their feeling that the symbol has sometimes been co-opted by intolerant individuals with an agenda to divide and exclude. I’ve personally spoken with some individuals who shared their feeling that the symbol makes them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. 

It is important to support law enforcement. Those of us with firsthand memories of November 2019 will never forget their heroic response and can be nothing but thankful for their selfless acts of service. 

It is also important to listen to the voices of those who feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. 

Choosing other ways to honor law enforcement seems a small price to pay to live up to our commitment to fostering a culture of inclusivity, kindness and respect. 

I’ve been told that adults on both sides of this issue are gearing up to make a statement at the next home football game. While acknowledging that all Americans enjoy First Amendment protections to freedom of speech – I’d like to respectfully encourage us all to remember that our children are watching us. We have an opportunity to model respect for one another – even amidst some of our strongest disagreements. In doing so, we can exemplify Coach Bornn’s encouragement to his players to “Just Love People.” 

We support law enforcement, and we foster a culture of inclusivity, kindness and respect. 

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