Last May, a South Carolina high school teacher was removed from the classroom after stomping on an American flag while discussing freedom in front of students last December.
To avoid a legal challenge, Scott Compton was paid an $85,000 settlement, in addition to his salary, through June 7 and the school district also paid attorney fees of nearly $32,000. The incident caused such a public firestorm that Compton resigned last March as part of the settlement.
Stephen Hefner, the school superintendent, talked to students in the class as well as Compton before deciding to recommend the teacher's firing. State law gives superintendents the ability to recommend firing teachers who show "an evident unfitness for teaching" as long as the teacher gets a hearing before the school board.
You would think that after hearing about such a serious case, teachers would realize that disrespecting the U.S. flag is something taken very serious and is a potential career-ender. Given the number of service people who have sacrificed their lives fighting during the War on Terror, stomping a flag in front of students certainly won't find support in the court of public opinion.
Yet an art teacher at a Kentucky High School recently set set off more outrage during an art exhibit in which students were encouraged to stand on the flag, then write how they felt about it. The teacher, Shand Stamper, said the project was student-directed and that she didn't specifically assign it. The display was a re-creation of "Dread" Scott Tyler's 1989 installation titled "The Proper Way to Display an American Flag."
Regardless, the incident came under the the teacher's watch and set off a storm on social networking sites. Many wanted the art teacher fired.
"The teacher should be fired and run out of town," wrote one resident. "I have a son serving to protect this flag at this very moment."
"It is a sad day when the symbol of this great nation is relegated to occupy the floor," another wrote. "It is a truly sorrowful day when the one who placed it there has the nerve to ask, 'How does it make you feel?'"
"I doubt this teacher intended the disrespect her art project exhibited," stated another. "But nonetheless, it was really a despicable assignment."
In a written letter of apology to school administrators, Stamper stated that she loved our flag and the freedoms and felt devastated that the actions had dishonored the men and women in the military.
Michael Ceglinski, principal of the high school, said Stamper made an error in judgment and that the project was not sanctioned by the school nor approved by administrators.
"We don't condone this action and we handled it immediately and appropriately," he said.
Another flag desecration incident outside the classroom created headlines in Pennsylvania this summer. After police in Adams County came upon 57-year-old Robert Stephen Forrey, whose vehicle had apparently broken down, they found trash, household goods, and furniture next to the vehicle and in the nearby woods. In the pile of trash, they found a defaced and torn flag and letters with Forrey's name and address.
Just as in the teacher cases, the incident touched a nerve, especially among area veterans. Michael Geib, a disabled Gulf War veteran, spoke for many when he stated that someone needs to educate Forrey on flag etiquette.
It's one thing when a person like Forrey appears ignorant of our flag laws and requires some education. It's more sad and unfortunate when some teachers, who have the task of educating our young people, need to be taught lessons on flag etiquette themselves.
By Jim Zbick