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In backlash against school officials, Minn. high school students protest with American flag display

Dozens of American flags fly from a row of student vehicles Wednesday, Sept. 6, in the parking lot of Rocori High School in Cold Spring, Minn. Dave Schwarz / St. Cloud Times1 / 3
Dozens of American flags fly from a row of student vehicles Wednesday, Sept. 6, in the parking lot of Rocori High School in Cold Spring, Minn. Dave Schwarz / St. Cloud Times2 / 3
Dozens of American flags fly from a row of student vehicles Wednesday, Sept. 6, in the parking lot of Rocori High School in Cold Spring, Minn. Dave Schwarz / St. Cloud Times3 / 3

COLD SPRING, Minn. — There was drama on the first two days of school in the Rocori school district.

On Tuesday, students at Rocori High School — about 20 miles southwest of St. Cloud — were greeted by a new policy prohibiting flags and banners from being displayed on vehicles in the school parking lot.

The controversial rule was bucked by students Wednesday, Sept. 7, with numerous American flags defiantly hanging from trucks that lined the lot. By the afternoon, students and school officials had come to an agreement that allows for the respectful display of the American flag.

Julie Mills, mother of a Rocori student who participated in the protest, said she and her 11th-grade son, Ethan, opposed the no-flag policy the moment they learned of it.

"My husband was in the military, my dad was in the military, everybody here we have a strong belief against (the new policy)," Mills said. "I told him you're doing what's right, Ethan, you're standing up for what you believe in. You are an American citizen and it's not showing hate to anybody, so go and I'll be the first one there with my American flag T-shirt on to stand with you."

Superintendent Scott Staska said the catalyst for the policy occurred last spring, when there were multiple incidents of students displaying Confederate flags on vehicles in the parking lot. He said that created a problem for school officials who are charged with creating a safe and respectful environment for students.

"To be honest, this has opened up a really good conversation," Staska said, praising students for showing restraint and limiting their protest to American flag displays only.

Staska said there would be no discipline for the students who participated, and school officials would work closely with the students to come up with a compromise.

"It has generated a conversation with high school administrators and students, not just the ones involved here, but many kids across the high school," Staska said. "What can we do that serves your needs but also protects other students in the district and protects people from flags that do cause concern, anxiety or unnecessary stress and issues?"

Max Gertken, a senior at Rocori, said he participated in the protest hoping the school would rescind its policy or at the very least consider amending it to allow for students to demonstrate American pride.

"The Confederate flag never really bothered me, but if it bothered them that's fine, you can make them take it down," Gertken said. "But this is America and I don't think they should be telling us we can't put up the American flag."

Staska said student leaders came to an agreement with staff Wednesday afternoon to support the display of American flags so long as students encouraged respect for others and condemned potentially threatening or negative displays.

"We're actually having some great civics lessons today. Some impromptu ones, but great civics lessons nonetheless," Staska said.

This article was republished with permission from the St. Cloud Times.

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