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Controversy bloomed in March over a symbol spotted on the caps of the Eureka High varsity baseball team. Specifically, the object of concern was the thin blue line flag emblem that for many denotes support of law enforcement. For many, but not for all.

The emblem is a mostly black-and-white version of the American flag in which the only color is one blue stripe representing the “thin blue line.” The slogan was popularized in the 1950s to describe how police officers are the thin blue line that stops society from descending into chaos. However, the symbol has become controversial after being adopted by Blue Lives Matter, a countermovement started in response to Black Lives Matter.

The symbol also garnered attention after it was seen on flags flown at the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol on Jan. 6.

On March 16, or about a week after the symbol had been brought to the district’s attention, the image was concealed on the team’s official caps and Rockwood Superintendent Dr. Mark Miles released a statement of explanation on the district’s website. Miles said the district, due to its status as a public entity, must refrain from advocating any political group or cause. But he also upheld the district’s support of local law enforcement and first responders.

“Any political or potentially divisive symbol has no place on our uniforms,” he said in the statement. He added, “As we shared with members of the Eureka team and their parents, by following these policies, we are not diminishing our support and appreciation for police and all first responders. The Rockwood School District absolutely supports the men and women who are our partners in law enforcement. They are our parents, staff, spouses and community members who put their lives on the line for us every day. We also recognize that the thin blue line represents different things to different people, based upon an individual’s perspective and their unique experiences with law enforcement.”

Miles mentioned his awareness of the feedback the decision was facing from some students, parents and other individuals on social media.

“I have heard from a number of parents and community members regarding the decision to remove baseball caps at Eureka High School that display a thin blue line flag,” Miles said in his official statement. “We are obligated as a public entity to refrain from advocating for any particular political group or cause, and having any type of political symbol on our uniforms violates district, state and National Federation of State High School Associations policies.”

The district’s Facebook post with Miles’ statement garnered over 1,000 comments in less than 24 hours.

“It’s sad that showing support for first responders has become political,” commenter Ryan Brown wrote. “These are the people that run towards danger when everyone else is running away. Now our kids can’t even show support for them without someone being offended. What a shame.”

However, others sided with the district’s decision.

A reply from Beth “Looman” Collum stated, “The district fully supports first responders! The uniform doesn’t follow MSHSAA (Missouri State High School Activities Association) rules. The only logo allowed is that of the school or district.”

She added that students could wear the logo or other logos to show support of causes, just not as a part of their official uniform.

Commenter Tobi Mahoney wrote, “In today’s climate I understand the decision. I just wish the decision had been made before the uniforms were ordered or distributed. There are opportunities to look at how this was handled by all adults involved. Unfortunately, it is a symbol that has been hijacked and supporters have not had a say in its use.”

In his statement, Miles said the district will review its processes for how schools purchase sports uniforms moving forward.

“Unfortunately, (those processes) vary from school to school, so that’s one of the things that we want to address when we review that process so that we can have something that is consistent across the district,” Mary LaPak, Rockwood’s communications executive director, said.

According to LaPak, this review of uniform processes will be done by Assistant Superintendent Supervision of Schools Dr. Lisa Counts, who will work in conjunction with district principals as well as activities directors to streamline uniform creation and purchasing across all schools and sports teams in the district.

“I think it’s something that’s just ongoing and they’re looking at where the cracks are and how do we make it more consistent,” LaPak said. “We’ll go from there toward a plan of action and moving forward with a more consistent plan.”

In the meantime, a traditional American flag has been sewn over the thin blue line emblem.

“It wasn’t as easy as buying new (uniforms). Because of COVID, we wouldn’t have them in time for the first game,” LaPak said.

The Eureka Wildcats first varsity baseball game of the season is scheduled for Friday, March 19 against Duchesne High.

Miles requested in his statement that the situation be used as a “learning opportunity to promote meaningful and respectful dialogue and to grow stronger as a school district and as a community.”

“As adults, our students are looking to us to set an example and advocate for a welcoming environment for all perspectives,” Miles said. “Extending respect, compassion and dignity toward all human beings should be our focus.”

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