Friday, May 19, 2000

Kids get bum steer on flag etiquette

        Two traditions met head-on this week at Indian Hill Primary School.

        “The show must go on” ran into “The flag of the United States must never touch the ground.”

        The flag lost.

        The Stars and Stripes took a direct hit. And I started wondering just how much Indian Hill Primary's students are being taught about treating the flag with respect and obeying the law.

        The flag hit the ground Monday night during the grand finale of the school's spring concert. The show was titled “All-American Revue.”

        The Primary Players, a group of 60 grade-schoolers from kindergartners to second-graders, was singing “You're a Grand Old Flag.”

        The students wore hats and waved small flags as they sang:

        “You're a grand old flag

        “You're a high-flying flag

        “And forever, in peace, may you wave!”

        When the students took their bows, music teacher Barbara Watson instructed them to put their flags on the floor and tip their hats.

        Fifty-nine of the 60 students lowered their flags to the floor.

        Everyone but Shari Marie Herold.

        “It's very wrong to put the flag on the floor,” the 71/2-year-old second-grader told me after school on Wednesday. “It shows disrespect for the flag.”

        Placing the flag on the floor violates the Flag Code approved by Congress in 1976. “The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground.”

        Putting the flag on the floor also violates the law. Ohio's revised code states that it is a second-degree misdemeanor to “physically mistreat ... the flag of the United States.” Second-degree misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.

        Shari Marie was very upset when she looked down at all those flags on the floor.

        “It made me mad and sad,” she said.

        “My grandfather died for this flag.”

        Shari Marie's grandfather, Air Force Capt. Robert David Bennett, was killed in 1962 when his plane went down over Southeast Asia.

        His name is on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He was the father of Shari Marie's mom, Shari L. Herold.

        Shari L. saw the flags being placed on the floor during a Monday afternoon dress rehearsal of the “All-American Revue.”

        She told me she was initially not going to complain to school officials. Then she saw her daughter arguing with another Primary Player about the proper way to treat the flag.

        Shari L. then raised the issue with the school's music teacher and Indian Hill's assistant superintendent, Laura Abegglen. She explained that putting the flag on the floor is disrespectful. To say nothing of being illegal.

        Shari Marie's mom was told the show must go on.

        “The children are too young to make a last-minute change,” explained Kaye Gordon, communications coordinator for the Indian Hill school system.

        She noted the “All-American Revue” has been performed for 10 years. “No one has ever complained about it before.”

        Someone's complaining now. With justification.

        School officials at Indian Hill Primary should change the show's finale next year and keep those flags flying high. That way, they'll instruct their students in another tradition:

        It's never too late to learn.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.