Sammamish, WA – A Washington high school banned students from wearing red, white, and blue to a football game in honor of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks over concerns that some people would view the show of solidarity as being “racially insensitive.”
The student leadership at Eastlake High School (EHS) wanted to acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks during the football game on Sept. 10, so they opted to promote a Patriot’s Day theme, KTTH reported.
But shortly before the away game was scheduled to take place, school officials told the students they wouldn’t be allowed to wear their patriotic colors.
“At this point, I was fairly upset and confused as to why the theme was changed so I went around asking students in our leadership,” one student told KTTH. “They had explained that red, white, and blue was going to be seen as racially insensitive and may affect people in a way that we will not understand and for that reason that we were to change our theme.”
A concerned parent said she emailed EHS Principal Chris Bede about the situation and received a response confirming what the students had been told.
“Our leadership teachers made this decision and explained it to students,” Bede wrote, according to KTTH. “I know tomorrow is 9/11 and understand the sacrifice and values our flag represents, but I think they just did not want to unintentionally cause offense to some who see it differently.”
The exact same message was relayed to another parent by EHS Associate Principal Darcie Breynaert in a different email, according to the news outlet.
According to Lake Washington School District Communications Director Shannon Parthemer, one school staff member is responsible for approving or canceling such themes, KTTH reported.
Parthemer did not release the staff member’s name.
“We have followed up with the staff member on decision making processes,” she told KTTH, ignoring the fact that Bede and Breynaert had backed the decision in email correspondence with parents.
Although the school has the authority to cancel or change the theme, Bede told KTTH in an email that the school does not have “a right to ban students from wearing anything as long is it is not lewd, vulgar, etc.,” according to the news outlet.
Students were outraged over the decision to cancel their tribute.
“We disagreed and were extremely disappointed,” EHS Senior Class President Ryan Ware told KTTH. “I couldn’t believe their reasoning.”
“If Eastlake is all about including everyone’s beliefs and being together as a ‘family,’ then why are we being told we can’t represent the country we live in?” another student asked. “I have seen other [Lake Washington School District] football teams that held a flag or did some sort of memorial recognition towards 9/11, but apparently we weren’t allowed to even wear USA colors.”
Some frustrated students skipped the game altogether.
Outrage over the decision spread throughout the weekend.
Lake Washington School District Superintendent Jon Holmen released a statement Monday saying “there was no ill-intent” behind the theme change, but that he understood why the decision “spurred strong emotions.”
“As we move forward, we will review the processes used to make such determinations, and ensure appropriate protocols are in place for similar decisions to be make in the future,” Holmen wrote.
In an email sent out to the EHS community on Tuesday, Bede apologized for the “outcome” and said the incident “placed Eastlake in a negative light.”
He then claimed the staff member had “changed the theme to EHS spirit gear” after realizing that the game was being hosted by another school and that they “could not honor the victims and survivors of 9/11 in our home stadium.”
Bede noted that students wore red, white, and blue throughout the school day leading up to the game and said they are always allowed to wear any type of clothing, “so long as they meet dress code requirements.”
“Most importantly, I am devastated that these events caused harm to any veterans and those impacted by 9/11,” the principal wrote. “For that we are truly sorry.”
He said the EHS leadership team has met with some of the students “to start learning from this experience and building bridges.”
Bede noted that the district plans to make sure there are “clearer, collaborative decision-making processes” moving forward.