JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – On the first day back to class since two Richland High School students desecrated the American flag, their classmates are setting an example of what it means to be a real American.
“We’re just here to show that Richland does support the troops … and two kids can’t destroy the reputation of a beautiful school like we have,” student Spencer Malinish – clad in a flag inspired super America hoodie – told The Tribune Democrat Wednesday.
Malinish and numerous other students with flags flying from their vehicles lapped Richland High School before school before heading into class with patriotic attire designed to send a strong counter message to a viral Facebook photo posted by two students over the weekend.
The image showed a male student standing on the American flag with a female student at his side, flipping her middle finger and sticking out her tongue. The picture generated heated public backlash after it was posted to Facebook Saturday, which prompted school and police investigation the following day, WJAC reports.
Neither of the two students have been identified, but the mother of the male student did issue a statement through the American Civil Liberties Union stating the act was a “stupid and compulsive thing” and apologized for her son, KDKA reports.
ACLU of Pennsylvania legal director Witold Walczak previously professed the students did not commit a crime because their act is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, though he acknowledged that any damage could be considered vandalism.
“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,” he said. “There could not be criminal charges brought against the students.”
Local police continue to investigate while students speak out about the ordeal.
“(Comments) about one bad picture have a lot of people making us look stupid,” Richland senior Ryan Skovensky told the Tribune Democrat. “That’s not what we’re about.”
School officials also promised to thoroughly investigate the incident and “implement appropriate legal discipline” against the student offenders.
“This type of picture does not represent the opinion of the District or of its overall student population,” according to a district statement.
The progression into school Wednesday, which “looked more like a patriotic parade,” confirmed the vast majority of students have more class than their flag desecrating classmates, PennLive.com reports.
School officials increased police presence on campus – a precaution because of heated reactions to the flag picture online – as students streamed in wearing patriotic attire with messages like “Keep Calm and Wave On.”
Richland superintendent Arnold Nadonley commended students for rising above the negativity.
“I want to thank them for doing it with class and good demeanor,” he told the Tribune Democrat. “And I think that is representative of Richland School District.”