The reappearance of the “Thin Blue Line” flag preceding the Saugus High School football game against Golden Valley on Friday night caused a stir in the community and beyond, as the use of the flag drew a sharp line between those who view it as an appropriate show of support for law enforcement and those who view it as a divisive symbol of political extremism.
In the aftermath, William S. Hart Union High School District officials were left contemplating how to respond, and it’s possible the subject may come before the district school board — but for this week’s board meeting, it will not be on the official agenda.
District Superintendent Mike Kuhlman announced in late-September that the Centurion football team would no longer carry the Thin Blue Line flag out onto the field as part of its pregame routine, after the district received complaints from individuals who were offended by the flag. The decision was announced without any public discussion of it by the school board.
Kuhlman said Monday that any board discussion of the matter is not expected to occur at the board’s regular meeting on Wednesday, because it is too late to properly agendize it.
“In order for the governing board to discuss this issue, it would need to be agendized properly prior to the board meeting,” Kuhlman wrote in an email. “The agenda was posted on Friday afternoon and therefore this issue is not included for discussion or action on Wednesday, Nov. 2.”
According to Kuhlman, members of the governing board can choose to consider new or revised board policy to change current policies to address certain issues sooner. The board agenda is set by the board president in consultation with the superintendent, he added.
“I stand ready to work with the board president on properly agendizing this subject if this is the governing board’s desire,” Kuhlman wrote in an email.
Earlier this season, the Centurions had been carrying the Thin Blue Line flag in support of law enforcement when they stormed the field before their games. Duncan Mandel, a Newhall resident who used to reside in Saugus, asked on Facebook for users to insist to the district that the use of the flag be stopped.
He told The Signal people can show their appreciation for law enforcement in many ways, but that the flag sends another message.
“It came out as a reaction of that summer where there were a lot of (‘Black Lives Matter’) protests after George Floyd was killed,” he said in a previous interview. “So, it’s a reactionary flag. It’s not something that was just invented as a pure, ‘Hey, let’s support law enforcement.’”
Other community members have said the flag is merely a symbol of support for law enforcement, and the Saugus High football team should be allowed to fly it during their games. Those who support the team’s use of the flag have said it’s especially relevant for Saugus due to the campus shooting in November 2019, when law enforcement officers converged upon the campus to protect students from a shooter who ultimately killed two fellow Saugus students before turning the gun on himself.
According to Kuhlman, the team’s action Friday night “appears to involve the violation of a team rule.” The team may face a potential disciplinary response, which would be addressed at the site level, he added.
“The principal and the athletic staff are aware and are following up,” he added.
Joe Messina, president of the governing board and representative of Trustee Area No. 5, said he believes it is a freedom of speech issue.
“I believe that, as it happens with other symbols, even the Black Lives Matter flag, that are absconded by those who are not good people, and the same thing has happened with the Blue Lives Matter flag. In the name of the flag, people have done terrible things.”
He said nobody wants to realize these football players are honoring the men and women who rush in to save them on Nov. 14, 2019, the day of the Saugus High School shooting.
“Calling these kids out as being racist, or white supremacists, is dishonest,” Messina said. “So, instead of browbeating these kids, it could have been a learning lesson. But instead, we’ve chosen to do nothing or belittle them all for showing love and respect to the local police department.”
Messina reiterated he did not speak for the board, but for himself.
Linda Storli, who represents Trustee Area No. 1, said her husband was a Los Angeles County Fire Department captain, and she “very much” supports local law enforcement.
“My opinion on it being brought in by football players is that the only flag that should be carried on to the field is the United States flag,” Storli said.
People can wear the Thin Blue Line flag, she added. She also noted she has a first responder sticker with a similar design as the Thin Blue Line flag on her vehicle.
“The problem is, in my opinion, if we allow that Thin Blue Line flag to be carried on by the players — again, people can wear it in the stands and wave it around if they want — but the next thing would be someone might want to bring on a flag that was absolutely inappropriate,” Storli said.
“My feelings are that I support the police. I absolutely believe in the Thin Blue Line idea. But I don’t think it should be carried on the field by the players,” Storli said.
The governing board has not discussed or made a decision regarding the Thin Blue Line flag.
Bob Jensen, Cherise Moore and James Webb, the other governing board members, did not respond to requests for comment as of the publication of this article. The Saugus High School administration did not respond to a request for a comment Monday.
According to Kuhlman, he hopes the community will focus on the students, especially the Saugus High School football team — as they celebrate their win versus Golden Valley and head into the first round of CIF playoffs.
“I encourage folks to come out and support the Centurions,” Kuhlman said in the email.