A South Carolina high school principal who refused to allow students to bring U.S. flags into a football game on Friday night changed his mind on Monday.

The principal of Travelers Rest High School told Greenville Online that the American flag had been used in the past to taunt students of Berea High, which has a growing number of Hispanic students.

The two schools played Friday night. Travelers Rest lost to Berea 30-27.

Principal Lou Lavely said disrespectful use of the flag had led to confrontations in the past.

“Student safety (and in the case of a football game, safety of all attending) is our primary concern,” Lavely told Greenville Online. “It is the responsibility of the school to provide the safest environment possible, and no object, sign, chants by students, etc. would be permitted if they compromise safety.”

Social media chatter, kicked up by the students who were not allowed to take flags into the game, led to a flurry of statements issued on Saturday and Sunday by Lavely, the school district and the principal of Berea High.

On Monday afternoon the Greenville County School District released a statement after a meeting between Lavely, student and faculty leaders, according to WYFF 4 in Greenville.

Lavely changed his mind about the matter after current asked him to judge them on their own merits and not the action of past students, the statement said.

“Effective immediately, students are allowed to bring the American Flag to any and all Travelers Rest High School events,” the statement read.

“Instead of restricting possession of the flag, the TRHS administration will, if needed, address the misuse of the Flag, or any other inappropriate behavior, on an individual basis.”

“Though social media reported that Mr. Lavely restricted the flag because it might offend members of the Berea community, Mr. Lavely vehemently denies believing or stating that the Flag might be offensive to that community.”

The statement said that Lavely had based his decision “on past incidents in which TR students used the U.S. Flag, in conjunction with verbal taunts, to target Hispanic members of the Berea community in a manner that was both unsportsmanlike and also a misuse of our Flag.

“Though social media reported that Mr. Lavely restricted the flag because it might offend members of the Berea community, Mr. Lavely vehemently denies believing or stating that the Flag might be offensive to that community.”

One photo on Facebook showed a student holding a huge flag — big enough to fly on a pole — talking to a police officer at the football stadium on Friday night. The officer, an Army veteran, drew so much flak online that the city’s police chief issued his own statement.

#S.C. Travelers Rest High School principal Lou Lavely, bans USA flag Football games https://t.co/79QUwtew1U

— James Johnson (@NCFIREJames) August 29, 2016

The controversy spilled over into Monday when several Travelers Rest students arrived at school displaying American flags on their vehicles, reported WSPA in Greenville.

Lavely said in a statement early Monday that the students were allowed to keep them because there are no restrictions about displaying the flag on automobiles or wearing patriotic clothing.

At Berea High, a larger-than-usual number of people gathered for the Monday morning flag raising — some waving flags, some wearing red, white and blue. Principal Mike Noel asked two adults to leave because it was not a community event, he said in a statement.

The incident on Friday night blew up on social media.

I commend the principal of TRHS for preventing this disrespectful misuse of the American Flag. https://t.co/T1CIZ3IzSF

— Eric Rogers (@Eric_M_Rogers) August 28, 2016

If the American flag “offends the Hispanic community of Berea,” then they can move back to Mexico. This is America.. https://t.co/rbF7GN6dG2

— Chelsea Thompson (@chelsea_nt) August 28, 2016

Travelers Rest athlete Alivia Waynick, one of the students told they couldn’t take a flag into the game, posted a video to her Facebook page.

She acknowledges that students had used flags “for unsportsmanlike purposes” at football and basketball games in the past but says that was not the case on Friday.

“People believe there’s a major division” between the two schools, she says in the video. “And that is not the case … although we’re rivals, we’re also friends.

“As students we do not share the same prejudice and thoughts as adults, so in bringing the American flag to the game it was not at all race, it was just in support of our country as we just had amazing accomplishments at the Olympics … and also we just boasted the right that we have the chance to carry our nation’s flag very proudly.”

In the statement he released on Saturday, principal Lavely said “the American flag, or any other symbol of our great nation, is welcome to be displayed and honored at our school events as long as it displayed properly and it is not used in any form of parallel taunting or disrespect.”

Noel’s statement said he supported Lavely’s decision on Friday night.

“He was protecting the greatest symbol of our nation, the American Flag. His decision was based on the premise that the American flag should not be used in a disrespectful or unsportsmanlike like manner. He made the right decision,” Noel said.

Travelers Rest Police Chief Lance Crowe decided to issue his own statement after watching how quickly the story unfolded, he wrote.

He made it clear that every officer in the department, “except one,” disagreed with barring the flag from the game. But “our officer’s involvement in this incident did not center on the flag, but in keeping the peace between a patron of the game and school staff,” he wrote.

“The school officials have the same option to trespass someone from the property under their control as any individual citizen. The reasons for the trespass are their own business and need to be take up with the high school or the school district, not the police officers who are bound to follow the law.”

On Monday, Crowe told Greenville Online that he has urged the school district to decide how it will handle future flag demonstrations at football games so the police won’t get caught in the middle.

“I anticipate a huge response the next time it’s possible,” Crowe said. “Then what are we going to do with dozens or hundreds of people who want to make a statement? I don’t want to get in the flag-screening business.”


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