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Officials irked over students' waning flag etiquette

Jun. 14, 2013 - 11:06AM   |  
Memorial Day Ceremony
Florida school officials want students to learn the proper way to respect the flag. (Philip Hall / AP)
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BREVARD, FLA. — It’s both what students do — and don’t do — when facing the American flag that unsettled Brevard School Board member Andy Ziegler.

“It really bothers me when I go to school events like graduations and see hats not being removed, and no hands over hearts,” Ziegler said. “It seems like nobody understands flag etiquette.”

He was so disturbed that he brought up the matter to fellow school board members. Board chair Barbara Murray said the district should develop an in-house directive to guide school administrators on teaching flag etiquette.

“There is confusion on protocol on how to act when the flag appears, and when it is presented,” Murray said. “It is obvious that students simply do not know how they are expected to act when it comes to flag etiquette.”

Lt. Col. James DesJardin, the Senior Army Instructor for JROTC at Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High, said that many students simply do not understand the symbolism behind the American flag.

“I think that is a piece of the education process that is missing,” DesJardin said. “We teach the 130 kids in our ROTC program each year, but it needs to be part of history classes, civic classes -- you name it.”

Murray cautioned against developing a district-wide flag policy, saying education was the better approach. Current rules call for students to show respect for the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance, but allows students who do not wish to stand for personal or religious reasons to stay seated, stand quietly without reciting the pledge or leave the classroom.

“There will always be people who exercise their freedom of speech,” Murray said. “But the flag etiquette education should be emphasized for all students.”

This is not the first time a flag issue has caught the attention of the school district. In March 2012, Brevard Public Schools received angry calls following a decision to delay flying flags at half-staff for Brevard Sheriff’s deputy Barbara Pill, who was killed while working. The school district waited for the official command from the governor before lowering its flags.

“As much as I would do anything to show respect for a fallen hero, there is a proper procedure,” said Ziegler, referencing the half-staff debate. “There is a proper flow of authorization. That, to me, is the exact opposite of showing disrespect. Respecting the flag means to follow the chain of command.”

Educating students in public schools, according to Ziegler, is just one step in reestablishing flag etiquette for the general population.

“To respect your country is to respect your flag,” he said. “Somehow we have to bring that back into our schools.”

Flag etiquette

During the Pledge of Allegiance, Americans should stand at attention, face the flag and put their right hand over their heart. When not in military uniform, men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, their hand being over their heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag and render the military salute.

During a rendition of the national anthem with the flag displayed, all persons except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with their right hand over their heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.

Source: Congressional Research Service

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