Hart district votes on policy, continues discussion on ‘Thin Blue Line’ flag issue


The William S. Hart Union High School District governing board unanimously approved new policy Wednesday night related to displaying flags, banners, symbols and other insignia on district property, and district administrators also announced a new advisory committee for the purpose of honoring public servants. 

In addition, governing board members continued their discussion on establishing new board policy related to student conduct at extracurricular and cocurricular events in regard to displaying of flags, banners, symbols or other insignia. No action was taken Wednesday night as it relates to student conduct and displaying flags. 

After an hour-long discussion, it was agreed upon by the board and district staff to revise the policy brought forth for discussion related to student conduct and bring it back on Jan. 18. 

“I don’t see any really good reason for anything but the United States flag and the California flag flying on the pole,” said Santa Rivera, a Hart district parent, in regards to the displaying of flags at district properties. 

There was an overall consensus from members of the public that no other flags should be flown on flagpoles at district property besides the U.S. and state flag.  

District administration presented governing board members with two options to adopt as board policy.  

The first option would continue the district’s prior practice of only flying the American and state flags on district flagpoles while the second option would outline procedures for authorizing commemorative flags and banners to be flown temporarily together with the American and state flags.  

After listening to public comment and a brief exchange of words, Bob Jensen, who represents Trustee Area No. 2, introduced a motion to adopt the first option, which was seconded by Linda Storli, who represents Trustee Area No. 1.  

Hart district Superintendent Mike Kuhlman also announced a new advisory committee for the purpose of honoring public servants. 

Each of the governing board members would invite one individual to serve on the advisory committee. Kuhlman would also invite additional members to the committee, which would include an administrator, a teacher, a classified representative, a parent and a single representative from law enforcement, first responders or the military.  

Additionally, five students from across the district would be invited to participate on the committee. Community members would also be able to provide input to the advisory committee.  

“Our staff will convene a committee of community members to explore ways for the district to honor law enforcement, first responders and military personnel,” Kuhlman said. “The committee will meet starting in January of 2023 and share recommendation to the governing board on Feb. 15.” 

The announcement of the new advisory committee was an information item, and the governing board did not need to take any action. Members of the public were concerned about how the members of the committee would be chosen as there was a concern whether the committee would become biased in one direction over another.  

Members of the public suggested district administration could survey potential members to ensure the committee remains balanced overall.  

Kuhlman said although there will be a select number of individuals on the committee, anyone can participate by submitting their ideas to the advisory email [email protected]

Policy discussion regarding student conduct displaying flags, etc. 

After the governing board wrapped up the first two items, the discussion related to student conduct became complicated as governing board members asked their questions and members of the public expressed their opinions on the matter.  

District administration presented two options for the governing board to discuss.  

The first option outlined the district’s prior practice of only displaying the American flag and state flags along with flags, banners, symbols or other insignia that involve or promote the school, the district, team, club, organization or other specific event or sport. The second option would call for the governing board to authorize or deny specific requests, such as the Thin Blue Line flag, for exceptions to the first option.  

According to Wendy Wiles, the district’s legal counsel, the district has the right to limit what may be carried onto the football field as a part of the school or the district’s football game.  

She said that regulating what football players do while representing the school or district at a football game is entirely different from regulating speech by an individual student in his or her own individual capacity. 

SCV resident Tony Maldonado indicated his support for option one during public comment. 

“We must make that very definitive to all students, parents in the community,” Maldonado said. “At the given stage that we are right now, there’s a lot of confusion. If you will restrict this to just government speech and therefore option one is the most logical to use at this given point.” 

Joe Messina, presiding officer of the board and who represents Trustee Area No. 5, asked how this potential policy would affect celebrations such as if students or community members honored veterans on Veterans Day. 

“So, what this guidance would say, students would be free to do so, as long as they do so together with the authorization of the administrator and the coaches,” Kuhlman said in response to Messina’s question. “They can bring out the American flag. They can bring out the state flag, but they don’t have the ability to on their own to make a decision whether to fly the ‘Arkansas’ flag today.” 

Option one is specific to students, he added.  

“The idea in the current discussion of cocurricular and extracurricular activities is really relating to what students on their own can or cannot do,” Wiles said. “So, that there is some guidance to students.” 

Wiles emphasized that if students wanted to display a flag during district-sponsored events the decision would come to the board and part of the reason is because there is no established policy. 

“The idea behind the two polices as they’re presented is either a limited option and there aren’t really additional options for students to decide what they want to do, or option two, which is giving some flexibility.” 

“It still comes back to the board because the boards have to choose what type of forum you’re wanting to have in this kind of an event. When you open it up, you’re creating the public forum, which you can’t just regulate on content,” Wiles added. 

Cherise Moore, who represents Trustee Area No. 3, said both options were not clear enough as each option has the possibility of “opening up the floodgates.” Moore elaborated that the district has numerous clubs and new ones are added each year.  

Her concern was whether one of the clubs would display an “inappropriate” flag, banner, etc.  

“I don’t want us to immediately be taken up with having to decide what flags this club can use,” Moore said. “That’s not what our business is. We’re trying to make sure that our schools have the best education and to have to think about either of these options for our 1,000 clubs, teams and organizations, it’s exhausting to think about that becoming our work.” 

Linda Storli, who represents Trustee Area No. 1, reiterated that students and community in the stands or audience are able to wear or display whatever they want, within reason, while students participating in district-sponsored events or activities are limited as they are representing the district. 

There were some concerns regarding the implications of how these potential policies would affect student clubs and the arts.  

Messina asked whether this policy would affect bands and how they select their music. Student board member Danielle Cox wondered how this would affect theater performances when a flag is involved in the production.  

Wiles said the policy wouldn’t affect those activities as a school staff member would already be directing and making those choices. But to their point, there’s a lot of uncertainty as to how the possible policy might affect other aspects of student life. 

“Legal has advised that we put a policy together. There’s a lot of things we’ve never had that have come up recently,” said James Webb, who represent Trustee Area No. 4. “The world is changing. But I think if legal is telling us to avoid certain things, you need to have a policy.” 

“Let’s have something we can all live with,” he added. 

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