American flag display sparks controversy at York High School

The re-creation of a controversial American flag display sparked a firestorm of its own this week in Elmhurst when images of a flag spread on the floor of the York High School library started circulating on social media.

On Tuesday, the school held a daylong interdisciplinary forum for sophomores about First Amendment rights. As part of the forum, students examined five real-life cases.

One of those cases involved artist Dread Scott's 1989 exhibit, “What is the proper way to display a U.S. Flag?” That exhibit, which invited people to walk on the flag, was criticized by then-President George H.W. Bush, who called it disgraceful.

A re-creation of the display in York's library featured a U.S. flag spread on the floor — although in this case a barrier prevented people from stepping on it.

“This is in no way meant to disrespect the flag, the military, or the government; rather, it was used for students to reconcile their feelings about current issues and whether their First Amendment rights are protected,” Principal Erin DeLuga later wrote in a letter to parents.

Some students took photographs of the display and posted them on social media.

The reaction was swift.

One person — Jay Zito — commented on Facebook, “York High School, this is disgusting.” The post was shared 168 times as of Wednesday afternoon.

Ashley Lindgren, who lives in Villa Park, said she was so upset that she wrote a letter to Elmhurst Unit District 205 officials.

“I think there are better ways to get the point across about our First Amendment rights,” said Lindgren, whose husband is a Marine veteran.

She said the school could have shown students photographs of the original display and had a discussion about it.

“You don't need to re-create it,” she said. “There are other ways to make your point. Disrespecting our flag in a public school setting should not be part of that.”

District 205 spokeswoman Melea Smith said officials received a number of emails about the display and some students were “visibly upset” by it.

Smith said the educators who organized the forum sought to create an authentic learning opportunity for students.

“There was never any intention to upset people or be disrespectful,” Smith said. “I think they were taken by surprise with the reaction.”

The display was up for just one school day. At 3 p.m. Tuesday, two students folded the flag and gave it to a representative from the Elmhurst American Legion so it could be retired respectfully.

On Wednesday afternoon, the district issued a statement that read, in part, “We ask our students to think critically about issues relevant to them and our society. At the same time, we understand that this demonstration caused some angst in the larger community and for that we deeply apologize.”

Smith said it was the first time the display was used at the school. It's also expected to be the last.

“Our staff and students will learn from this week's lesson,” the district's statement reads, “and we will make changes to this forum in the future to ensure we do not disrespect our flag.”

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