JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s a son’s tribute to his late father. Since August 2019, the Fletcher High School football team has carried the Thin Blue Line flag onto the field. The flag was meant to honor Jacksonville Beach Police Department Corporal Andy Lavender who passed away unexpectedly in August 2019. His son plays on the football team. Now, the school banned the display after it stirred up controversy this football season.
Principal Dean Ledford said the flag was being interpreted by some as a political statement of the team and of the school. “We wanted to make sure that as the students were trying to express themselves, that we created that environment for them where they could express themselves and honor the fallen police officer that they wanted to honor and do it where in a way that wasn’t misinterpreted,” Principal Ledford said.
On Friday, dozens of people showed up to the game to wave the Thin Blue Line flag in support. Laurie Baughan, a retired officer for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, knew Cpl. Lavender for decades. “Whether he had a badge or not, he was the best guy,” Baughan said. Baughan said she was heartbroken when she found out the display was banned. “It’s almost like betrayal,” Baughan said. “To keep them from being able to honor a family member is, I think is ludicrous.”
Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Zona said the display wasn’t a political statement. “All this ever was was to support Andy, support his son, and support the team,” Zona said. Zona said Cpl. Lavender was dedicated to serving the community and the children. “Everybody loved him,” Zona said. “Not only was he a police officer, he dedicated his life here at the beach to mentoring young kids for Pop Warner football and he was also a coach here at Fletcher.”
Now to honor Cpl. Lavender, players designed a helmet decal which includes his initials and badge number.
Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene backed the principal’s decision. In a statement, she said “he has taken proper action based on the educational values that should be considered in the situation involving the football team’s pregame ceremonies and the Thin Blue Line flag. His actions reflect those I would expect of any principal leading through such a scenario involving any other flag or symbolic display.” Dr. Greene went on to write she supports each student’s right to express their personal views, however, “if that personal expression can be easily construed as the position of other stakeholders or the school, it is not an acceptable manner of expression in a school environment. This is the case with the Thin Blue Line flag, which in its matter of use, has come to imply something other than one student’s expression, but rather a position of the team and thus the school.”
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