Let’s review protocol, shall we?
From: Principal Stern
To: All S. Gompers Middle School Faculty and Staff
Re: Flag Protocol
Good morning, fellow Gomperians. Just a quick memo to update you on the rules and guidelines that govern the presentation of the flags on the flagpole in the front of our building.
Several members of the community — parents as well as staffers — asked me last week why the large flag of the United States was flying at half-staff. Most assumed it was because someone of national importance had passed away, while some thought our school family had suffered a casualty, but in any case no one knew who had died. (I even overheard one eighth-grader positing to another that Samuel Gompers himself had perished, making me think we should be doing a better job of educating our students about American labor history, even if the subject is not a priority on standardized tests.)
I apologized — and I apologize now again — for the confusion. No one died. In fact, the flag was flown not quite at half-staff but at 7/16-staff (that is, just below the midway point on the pole) to represent the losing record of my favorite professional football team during the regular season, which ended the previous Sunday, and my consequent disappointment. I realize now that this was something of an abuse of power on my part, as principal, and I promise that I won’t ask our custodial staff to lower the flag of our country again because a sports team has let me down, however gravely.
This incident, however, prompted me to review the rules of flag protocol. As it turns out, there are a number of flag conventions of which I was unaware, so I figure I might as well share what I learned, so that we all might avoid any possible awkwardnesses and/or violations of federal law in the future.
- When another flag is flown on the same staff as the flag of the United States, the U.S. flag must always be on top. For years, we have been hoisting the flag of our school first, followed by our country’s flag. This, believe it or not, could have been construed at any time as a declaration of intention of Samuel Gompers Middle School to secede from the Union, which is grounds for military action. We have been very fortunate, in other words, not to have been paid a visit by the National Guard. Effective immediately, the U.S. flag will be on top, always. No one wants another Upton Sinclair Elementary incident.
- A national flag flown upside down is commonly understood to be a distress signal, but on a naval vessel. Therefore, it makes little to no sense for anyone to lower the U.S. flag on the pole in the front of the building, invert it, then raise it again if there is a problem in the school, being that the school is not a boat and has not been a boat since 1946. Also — and this should go without saying, but I really can’t be too careful here — if the school is in distress — if it has been captured by pirates, for instance — and you are able to get out of the building, please do not take the time to invert the American flag out front. Please go for help instead. We can deal with the flags when the crisis has passed.
- Folding an American flag into the shape of a dinosaur before hoisting it is not disrespectful to the United States, necessarily, but it can be insensitive to creationists. A memo about what we are teaching in science and shop classes will follow separately.
- We’ve all heard, I’m sure, that setting a flag on fire is verboten, but then we’ve also heard that burning a flag is the proper way to dispose of one. In any event, torching the American flag and then hoisting it is by no means acceptable, so the district-wide homecoming flag burning/raising scheduled for next Saturday has been canceled.
Finally, all of this thinking about flags got me thinking about procuring a brand new American flag to display proudly on the school grounds, but what I discovered when I went online to buy one is that we’ve apparently been flying an older version of the official flag of our nation for some time. Evidently there have been a number of upgrades over the years. So we’ll be getting the newest flag soon, and we might even raise some funds for the district by selling the old flag, which I listed on eBay. Bids are already past half a million dollars, and I also got a call from someone at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. asking, “Where the hell did you get the first flag of the United States?” If anyone knows where we got the flag we’ve been flying for at least as long as I’ve been principal here, please come speak to me.
And now, if you’ll all kneel for the Pledge of Allegiance….