Community members “backing the blue” addressed the Yuma Union High School District governing board Wednesday evening regarding the district’s request that local police departments’ honor guards omit their department flags, which bear a single blue line in support of law enforcement officers, from their presentation of the state and nation’s colors during school commencement exercises on May 21.
According to San Luis High School co-principal Lucky Arvizo, in a social and emotional wellness check-in prior to commencement, students expressed concern and discomfort over the Blue Lives Matter countermovement as, throughout the last year, tensions have increased between civilians and law enforcement officers in other parts of the nation. A blue line flag had been displayed on the online landing page of the school’s criminal justice program, but to foster neutrality and equity, the photo was removed, Arvizo said – a basis that also spurred the district’s request of the Yuma and San Luis police departments.
According to San Luis resident Gary Snyder, one of six people who addressed the governing board on the topic Wednesday, law enforcement joins local military and agriculture as the one of the “main backbones of Yuma County.”
For Malba Alvarez, a San Luis resident and wife of a local law enforcement officer, the exclusion of blue line flags from her children’s high school-hosted events is a sensitive topic.
“It is, in a way, offending for our own children to not have been able to have our (honor) guard flag used during one of our commencement ceremonies,” she said. “The district must grow a spine and not bend on its values for a couple of students and their parents. I really believe that it must stand for what is right (and) stand for our police officers, especially those that have fallen in the line of duty for our sake. Just like we would not turn our backs on the armed forces members, we must not do so on our law enforcement.”
Others who addressed the board requested the institution of a policy to refer to in the event that the situation recurs, preferably one that retains police departments’ right to carry their flags.
“This is not a partisan issue, this is not something that’s meant to be anything other than a flag for the department,” said Russ Clark. “‘Neutral’ was the desire (behind the district’s decision), as if somehow that department’s flag was something other than neutral, and I think that’s offensive. What is our policy, what will be allowed and what are we going to do with the intolerant few who say, ‘This is offensive to me, so it can’t exist in my school’ at the expense of everyone (to whom) it’s offensive not to have it? I think we need to get together and have that discussion – an open discussion so that we can make some decision that’s going to be good with everybody, because this one was not.”
According to YUHSD Superintendent Gina Thompson, the request was made only to ensure graduation night was an “equitable experience” for the upwards of 2,200 seniors across the district.
“It is entirely inaccurate that YUHSD would disrespect any part of law enforcement,” Thompson said. “Law-related education has been a partnership between YUHSD and our local police departments to build relationships over 25 years. The district not only offers the pathway to law and criminal justice on five campuses, we support all of our officers daily.”
The district invites local police departments to participate in commencement exercises on a yearly basis, Thompson noted, and has school resource officers (SROs) on each of its major campuses, which are provided through intergovernmental agreements between the district and local police.
“I believe the evidence is clear on behalf of YUHSD and our years of partnership with YPD and SLPD,” Thompson said. “We respect and develop next generations of officers.”