The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)
In a demonstration meant to honor U.S. military veterans, students in Paso Robles High School’s Conservative Club waved flags on campus for several hours — including one that said “F— Biden.”
Although most of the flags displayed by students on Nov. 10, the day before Veterans Day, were traditional star-spangled American flags, others included the one with the profanity-laced slogan, at least one “Trump 2020” flag and a Gadsden flag featuring a snake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me” on a bright yellow background.
Some community members expressed outrage that the students were allowed to display a flag with profanity on it for so long. The demonstration lasted for about four hours.
“There would be no complaints if they’d been outside of the fences,” said Kristin Usilton, a teacher at Glen Speck Elementary School in Paso Robles. “But they were on campus, and it’s just intolerable.”
Usilton emailed Paso Robles Joint Unified School District officials on Nov. 10 to share her disdain for the demonstration. The recipients included district Superintendent Curt Dubost, Deputy Superintendent Jen Gaviola and members of the district’s board of education.
In his reply to Usilton, school board president Chris Arend wrote that the students’ right to free expression “does not extend to profanity” and that displaying a banner with profanity “can lead to disciplinary action.”
“One personal comment: I am a veteran,” Arend wrote in his email, noting that he served in the U.S. Army from 1971 to 1974. “The use of profanity was and presumably still is very common among service members. However, such language at an event to publicly honor veterans is completely out of place, especially by young people who have not (yet) served.”
In the same email thread to district officials and board members, Jim Lynett, the Paso Robles Public Educators union executive director, noted he and his father are both veterans.
“These people do not speak for me, and when you disrespect our president and fly the flags we saw on January 6, you demonstrate your disdain for the rule of law and democracy,” he wrote.
In a response to a Tribune inquiry, Dubost said that the district is looking into the demonstration. However, he was unable to give further details as to whether the students involved were disciplined or whether the district will take any action.
“A followup investigation of the incident is being conducted today as we received additional information after school last Wednesday,” he wrote in an email Monday afternoon. “Confidentiality applies to student minors and adult personnel. I hope to have all the facts later today or when the students involved are next present.”
The Conservative Club initially posted to its Instagram account that it was thankful to all who showed support to honor veterans.
“Many supportive and patriotic students at PRHS joined us in flying American flags to school today to show our thanks,” the post on Nov. 10 read. “Couldn’t be prouder of the club and others for standing up for something that’s right. Thank you all for coming together as grateful Americans and showing respect & support to our veterans!”
That post was later deleted.
In a Nov. 11 Instagram post, the Conservative Club addressed the backlash club members had received from community members.
“I am in complete utter-shock and disappointment of the hate we received for just trying to show respect,” the post reads.
In the post, the club notes that the majority of the flags flown at the school were U.S. flags.
Addressing the flag criticizing President Joe Biden that was waved during the demonstration, the post reads, “I am 100% with all who are concerned and oppose of flying that flag to school on this day.”
“In no way or form was this event supposed to cause hate or (division),” the club reads. “I understand and apologize for the flag that was flown that offended many, as a leader who helped put on this event I apologize for not making it more clear to keep politics out of it. I apologize for all whom were offended.
“I do not regret bringing others together and showing patriotic support to honor our veterans. I’m very disturbed by the fact a Paso schools elementary school teacher told Conservative Club and other individuals that participated in this event to ‘jump off a bridge.’ As conservatives do we support anybody’s right and opinion to speak it. We will rise above the hate and (divisiveness) just as we have done in the last few years when hate and threats have been elevated.”
The club posted on Sunday a photo of thank you notes that it said were hand-delivered to local veterans.
(c)2021 The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)
Visit The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) at www.sanluisobispo.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.