JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Police and school officials are investigating two students after they posed for a picture standing on the American flag, and posted the image to social media.
The photo, which shows a male student standing on the flag and a female student beside him flipping the middle finger and sticking out her tongue, appears to have been taken inside a Richland Township high school, WJAC reports.
The image was posted to Facebook Saturday, and the district superintendent and district solicitor responded in a Facebook post on Sunday.
“The Richland School District has become aware of this unfortunate and unpatriotic picture posed by some of its students. This type of picture does not represent the opinion of the District or of its overall student population,” the post read. “The District promises a timely and thorough review of this incident and will implement appropriate legal discipline.”
“I thought it was disrespectful. It definitely wasn’t a representation of what Richland school district is,” Richland Township parent Mindy Wadsworth told WJAC. “As a parent of a Richland student … that’s not how I would hope my child would act.”
Residents who posted in response to the district’s Facebook notice were a little more blunt with their disgust of the situation.
“If my kids did this they would be beat till they bled just like the men and women who fight for that flag!” Missy Units wrote. “It should be no one’s right to do that to the American flag, people die to defend that flag. …
“Make an example of them! Punish them to the fullest extent!”
“No discipline. No respect. No accountability and very little education,” Gary Trabold posted. “That’s what you get!”
And while Facebook commenters debated the legality of standing on the American flag, WJAC contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which defended the students’ constitutional right to defile the symbol of freedom.
“The Supreme Court made it clear that using the flag as part of a protest, even burning a flag, is protected by the First Amendment,” ACLU of Pennsylvania legal director Witold Walczak told the news site. “There could not be criminal charges brought against the students.”
But Walczak pointed out that the disrespectful teens could face ramifications for their actions by the school district, if they violated school policies.
“If it’s a school owned flag and they somehow defiled it,” Walczak said. “Then potentially there could be a vandalism rule violation.”
“The message this picture sends is not justification to punish the students so the school needs to tread very carefully here,” Walczak said. “And look at whether or not the students violated any kind of school rule.”
Richland Township Police, meanwhile, “are in contact with the Richland School District and will work with them in resolving the issue,” according to a statement cited by WJAC.