The Tumwater School District issued an apology after a Confederate flag was displayed during a Veterans Day assembly on Thursday.
There were 14 flags featured in the program led by leadership students at Bush Middle School. The 530-student school is named after black pioneer George Washington Bush. He and his wife, Isabella, and their children were among the first settlers in South Sound.
The leadership students’ program included the chronological history of flags from 1775 to present.
“As part of that program, one of those flags was a Confederate flag and one of the two students holding the flag was a student of color,” Tumwater superintendent John Bash told the School Board on Thursday night. “This leadership student was not assigned to this specific flag, but the student holders got out of order during the program.”
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Bash said he contacted the student’s family and apologized. He said the district extends its apology to anyone who was offended, and he doesn’t believe a Confederate flag should have been at the school in the first place.
“Having the flag there at all was an act of insensitivity and failed to meet our standards for a safe, respectful, and culturally sensitive school environment,” he said. “…Beyond the regret that this happened, I want to express regret this incident overshadows really what we should be celebrating right now, which is the service of all of our veterans here in the United States.”
Several people spoke about the incident during the community comment period at the School Board meeting Thursday night.
“I find it necessary to point out that while many say that (a Confederate flag) is a symbol of heritage, and not hate, we must understand and recall that the heritage was hate and slavery and segregation,” said Karen Johnson, co-founder and chairwoman of the Black Alliance of Thurston County.
Johnson said she applauds the district’s response to the issue, and encourages its schools to teach values such as love and citizenship.
East Olympia Elementary School teacher Bruce Milliman said he was disgusted that a Confederate flag was displayed at a local school.
“There are no two flags,” he said. “We have one flag that represents us all, and that is a value I try to impart in students.”
Tim Voie, president of the Tumwater Education Association, the local teachers union, described the situation as a “teachable moment’” for the district.
“I believe this was an honest mistake by a teacher that led to unintended consequences,” he said. “But at the same time we do have to be very cognizant and very aware of the messages we send out to kids and our community.”