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Letter to Londonderry students taken as flag ban triggers online kerfuffle

Union Leader Correspondent

September 18. 2017 8:53PM

LONDONDERRY — The wording of a Londonderry High School pep rally letter to students turned into an online hullabaloo about the American flag.

A memo to seniors for Friday’s Mack Plaque/fall pep rally included instructions not to wear, carry or present the American flag. On Monday, the district said the intention was not to ban the flag.

“We had kids in years past who would wear the flag around their shoulders like a cape; they’d wave it and then they’d be done and put it on the floor,” said Scott Laliberte, superintendent of the Londonderry School District. “We have some staff members who are veterans and they are offended by it, and they called the kids on it.”

In multiple social media posts, some interpreted the letter as keeping students from celebrating the American flag. Others blasted the district for political correctness for attempting to make sure no one in the audience felt “uncomfortable,” as stated in the original protocol memo.

Also included in the protocol list was no undressing or derogatory statements about opponents. Any athlete in violation would be reported to a coach, according to the memo.

Follow-up attempts by the district to clarify were criticized as damage control, with one commenter on a conservative blog calling for “armed patriots” to descend on Londonderry and “occupy the buildings.”

Laliberte said Monday the language in the memo “could have been phrased better.”

Al Baldasaro, a state representative from Londonderry who has posted regularly about proper flag etiquette, said the staff could have done a better job educating students about respect for the flag, instead of giving the impression they were banning it.

“In ordinance with the U.S. flag code, which New Hampshire has adopted, they shouldn’t have the flags on the floor, so you would think the coaches would be patriotic enough to correct that,” he said.

Laliberte said school officials remedied the misunderstanding by sending an updated email to parents and staff about the “inadvertent disrespect.” The display of the flag and the singing of the National Anthem are both included in the pep rally program.

He said the district is now trying to make this a teachable moment for students. He said that any student wishing to use a flag, as articulated in the code, will be able to do so at the rally.

“If a kid comes in and says ‘I want to display the flag and I’m going to do so appropriately,’ then they can do it,” Laliberte said. “The American Legion Flag Code — if they’re going to follow it, go for it.”

High school students on Monday largely said they were unaware of the controversy. Those who spoke about the issue called it a misunderstanding.

“I don’t think anyone was trying to, like, be disrespectful,” said one Londonderry High School senior who declined to give her name. “If there were kids mishandling the flag, then we should look at fixing that.”

Sophomore Aidan Barrett said he doesn’t even remember flags being at pep rallies in the past year.

“I’ve never really seen too many students bring American flags at pep rallies, so I don’t think it has a huge effect on the students,” he said, adding the whole decision is “a little strange.”

“I guess it’s fun, and people can bring them now if they want to,” he said.

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