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Saugus High School football team to stop carrying ‘thin blue line’ flag in pregame ceremonies

A school building painted with a Saugus High School logo
The coach of the Saugus High School football team has decided to stop carrying “thin blue line” flag in pregame ceremonies.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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The Saugus High School football team will no longer use the “thin blue line” flag in its pregame ceremonies after a decision by the team’s coach, the William S. Hart Union High School District superintendent said.

The flag, a black and white United States flag with a horizontal blue line, has become a contentious symbol. Some use it to declare support for law enforcement, while white nationalists and other extremist groups have adopted the flag for their own movements.

In a letter sent to the school community, Supt. Mike Kuhlman said the use of the flag had become controversial.

“Just three short days ago, I became aware of a concern about this symbol being flown at Saugus High School football games,” Kuhlman wrote in the letter dated Wednesday. “Despite emails for immediate action, and threats of consequences if certain steps weren’t taken within a specific timeline, we determined to take our time to understand the issue accurately and to respond thoughtfully.”

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The school’s principal, Geni Peterson Henry, reportedly met with football coach Jason Bornn, who said he “was not even fully aware of the banners in question” although he noted that the team had never held a vote regarding any flag.

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”...(It) occurred to (Bornn) that it’s possible that some players on the team might not be entirely enthusiastic about a symbol that is being used to represent the entire team,” Kuhlman wrote.

Bornn decided to discontinue the use of the flag “in deference to his commitment to inclusivity, kindness and respect...”

“Please note that this decision does not translate into a change in support for law enforcement,” Kuhlman wrote. “The degree of enthusiasm behind our District’s backing of law enforcement is not measured by the acceptance or rejection of any one particular symbol.”

The district is looking for alternative methods to show support for law enforcement, Kuhlman wrote.

The move did not sit well with some.

“This is unacceptable behavior at any of our schools, let alone Saugus,” one speaker said at a school district board meeting Wednesday. “It does represent the team. Yes, it does represent the students, the parents, the residents.”

“I’m dismayed and I’m upset,” said a speaker who identified herself as a 28-year LAPD veteran. “It is a profession that I’m truly proud of.”

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“I believe, personally, this is a slap in the face of those who came running towards danger at Saugus High School,” district board President Joe Messina said.

In 2019, Saugus High School was the site of a shooting that killed two students. The shooter, who also attended the high school, shot and killed himself in the attack.

Some speakers supported discontinuing the use of the flag and exploring alternatives.

“I think that there are thousands of other ways that we can show our support for our heroes,” said a parent of Saugus public schools. “Unfortunately, [the flag] has been co-opted by racist elements in this country, and it has a taint on it now.”

“As someone of the African American community, there was a spike in the popularity of the Blue Lives Matter flag after the rise in 2020 of the Black Lives Matter protests,” said a speaker who identified herself as a student at Golden Valley High School, in the neighborhood of Canyon Country. “A lot of people can get that confusion that the popularity of it came in spite of the Black Lives Matter protests.”

The speaker supported surveying the football players to gain their perspectives.

“If they’re just trying to promote and show their gratitude for law enforcement, that’s great,” the speaker said. “If their goal is something else, then I can see a problem with that.”

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