After a student was asked to remove a Trump 2020 flag from a varsity football game last month, information began to spread that the Kansas State High School Athletics Association (KSHSAA) has a policy against such political activity.
Verification with KSHSAA has indicated this is not the case.
“The KSHSAA would expect to follow local host school policy in this regard,” said Bill Faflick, executive director for KSHSAA. “The KSHSAA does not have a policy forbidding a student from expressing support for a candidate or issue unless any such expression creates disturbance or dangerous environment.”
And in Derby’s case, that’s pretty much the district policy, too.
Derby Public Schools leaves a bulk of conduct regulation up to administrators at each school. At DHS, the student handbook says “students are expected to maintain standards of behavior that are acceptable to school personnel at all school-sponsored activities, home and away.”
“Any unacceptable pattern of conduct (e.g., disrespect, defiance, disruptive behavior, harassment, inappropriate language, inappropriate displays of affection) will be dealt with by staff and/or school administration,” reads the policy under “General Rules of Conduct” on page 29.
There is no specific policy that deals with political flags, or any flags, within the district’s guidelines or the high school’s student handbook.
One policy in the board of education’s guidelines says that students are permitted to participate in “demonstrations” during non-operational hours on school property, as long as they are “conducted in an orderly, non-disruptive manner.”
While it is not clear if a single student waving a flag would qualify as a “demonstration,” the policy goes on to say that “demonstrations on school district property may be terminated at any time by building principals or the superintendent.”
Finally, in a list of behaviors that could result in suspension or expulsion in DHS’s student handbook, item No. 22 says students could face consequences for “wearing or [being] in possession of clothing or any item, or using verbal or written statements or derogatory insults/slurs that create racial unrest, promotes bigotry and prejudice, or is a source of disruption or a disturbance.”
Following the Trump flag incident, the school district said the official who requested the student remove their flag was acting in error. The district has denied to confirm whether the student was being disruptive or otherwise violating policy.
Dr. Patricia Dooley, a professor of communication law at Wichita State University, said it is probably outside of the school’s legal authority to make a policy that specific.
“I think that a [specific flag] rule would be problematic because of [Tinker vs. Des Moines (1969)],” Dooley said.
While schools are given more leeway in limiting free speech than the government, Dooley said she feels this specific action was outside the bounds of the district’s authority.
“I think the incident violated the student’s right to free expression,” Dooley said.
While she speculated there could be more specific case law from a lower court that pertains to the incident, she maintained that the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of symbolic expression at public schools in the landmark “Tinker” case is applicable.
“I Shepardized Tinker and there are many legal and scholarly sources that cite it,” Dooley said.
While Dooley is not an attorney, “Shepardizing” is a process by which legal officials identify other cases that have dealt with a particular issue. This allows them to determine if a certain court ruling is still good precedent.
Dooley said she is not aware of any Kansas law that would prevent people from campaigning at a sports event, but she said someone could make the argument the student was campaigning – considering the flag in question had an upcoming election year on it.