Controversy over removal of Trump flag at Derby football game

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DERBY, Kan. (KAKE) -

"Whenever there's some kind of controversy, people do want to make it a big deal," said Seth Boles of Derby.

He's talking about a picture on Facebook and a story of a Trump 2020 flag confiscated at a football game that are dividing the community.

Kevin Miller says he was on his way back from the concession stand before Friday night's football game  when he saw a woman holding  a "Trump for President 2020" flag which he had earlier seen a student holding.

He reported hearing part of a conversation between the woman and the student, but not the context of the comments.

"Now I am only reporting on the facts in which I know to be true as a credible witness to the events. I did not hear anything mentioned before the fact nor after," he said in a letter to the district that he shared with KAKE News. 

In that letter, Miller asked Derby Schools about their policy on free speech at school activities and whether students were prohibited from bringing these flags in.

He said, in the end, the flag was returned to the student who had to then take it out of the stadium.

"A school is a different sort of place when you're talking about free speech," said Dr. Neal Allen, a political scientist at Wichita State University.

He says public schools have a lot more wiggle room than other parts of the government when it comes to controlling speech because, legally, they stand in place of students' parents, especially if there's any concern of a larger disturbance breaking out.

"The school is on a much stronger footing taking an item away like a flag," Allen said, "than it would be taking away somebody's clothing or something like that."

Miller posted about the incident on Facebook where it took off - reaching residents who weren't at the game.

Many were upset.  Some argued online the incident was a violation of the students' First Amendment rights.  Others said that the students involved were deliberately trying to stir up trouble.

"Everybody wants to make a reaction, you know?" Boles said about the instant reaction to the incident online.

Folks we spoke with Sunday in Derby agreed with Boles assessment that the rules in place at the time of the game Friday make a big difference in understanding exactly what happened.

"I think if that's the rule (not bringing in political flags), if that was what was set up before the football game, if that was established, it was a justified action," Boles said.

The district sent a written statement in response to our questions about the incident, calling it a misunderstanding and an error.  They would not say anything else.

DERBY PUBLIC SCHOOLS STATEMENT

Friday, September 20th was Military Night at the Derby vs Newton football game. During this event a student who attended the game was asked to return a flag in their possession to their car.  District Administration and Derby High School Administration have investigated the facts and circumstances surrounding this incident. There was a misunderstanding about how to handle any flags that may have been brought into the event that evening. Derby Public Schools supports our students’ rights in this incident and the request to remove the flag was done in error.  We apologize for the situation that occurred last night and regret that this incident may have detracted from Military Night and the celebration it is meant to be for our members of the military.

KEVIN MILLER'S LETTER TO DERBY SCHOOLS

I, Kevin Dean Miller, on the 20th of September 2019, while attending a Derby High School football game and just right before the football game began, had witnessed a possible staff member stating political comments while addressing students.  

After getting seats with my wife in the bleachers on the south end, I decided to go and divulge in the concession stands, right before kick-off at 7pm. On my way back to the bleachers I had noticed a female holding a flag (which I had seen earlier, from a student holding it). The flag was a 'Trump for president 2020' flag.

As I walked by within a few feet from this female wearing a Derby shirt  and what appeared to be a faculty member, I had heard her say, clear as day 'not my president.' The student’s response was, 'he is your president!'

Now I am only reporting on the facts in which I know to be true as a credible witness to the events. I did not hear anything mentioned before the fact nor after. This has apparently been a hot topic on local social media sites, and other witnesses coming forth as well, and even a video was mentioned to be out there (un-confirmed, only stated in a comment).

Now I do not know the standing policy on freedom of speech at  school activities, more or less I’d like to know if the students were in fact prohibited from bringing these flags in. And what possible general code of conduct these students may have violated.

The flag was given back to the student and he had to take it out of the stadium.

ADDITIONAL STATEMENT FROM THE DISTRICT RELEASED MONDAY

After a thorough investigation and interviewing multiple witnesses (adults and students) in the immediate vicinity of the incident at the football game, we have concluded that no school official made the statement “he is not my president”.  It is unfortunate that this information was publicized without verification of its authenticity.

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