Speaking of schools and the First Amendment, Mr. Powers raises a red flag over free speech rights for school staffers. Cesar Zakahi says the Stanley County School District has fired him from his custodial job for "standing up for the US flag." According to Powers's cuttings from Zakahi's Facebook page, on Saturday Zakahi posted a photo of a U.S. flag and a South Dakota flag rolled up and laid on a utility shelf with cleaning supplies. Zakahi offered the following text:
This is the way my coworker [name redacted by PP] puts out flags away. I work at the park view gym, Stanley County-Schools, she was told to stop doing this, to fold it, she disrespect the United States flag, in this manner because I complained about it, she told me as long as it doesn't touch the ground is the only thing we have to do, she leaves it this way to mess with me, hey face book if enough people call the superintendent of the Stanley County School system, and complain, on Monday she might stop [Facebook text, attributed to Cesar Zakahi by Pat Powers, "This Posting on Facebook Got Someone Fired...," Dakota War College, 2013.02.04]
Around 17:00 MST today, Zakahi posted a brief video purportedly showing the same flags wadded up and laid on some machinery. Over the video, Zakahi texts, "This video is one. Of the reasons I was fired, i reported to mybo".
Way back when I worked summers at Prairie Village, one of my varied duties was to help bring the flag in at closing. It was summer, we were young, and we had plenty of other things to do. Yet as I recall, between putting the weed-eater and paintbrushes away and racing through the Village to lock, I took time to help my co-worker lower the flag and do the proper triangle fold. (Myron Downs would have had our hides if we hadn't.)
Now I work in a public school district (some days, I miss that weed-eater). If I post a critique of a fellow staff member here on the blog, complete with that staff member's name, accuse that staff member of trying to "mess with me," and try to orchestrate a social media campaign to intimidate that staff member into behaving properly, I'm pretty sure my principal will call me in and chew my butt. I might be lucky to get to go back to my classroom just to get my bike, let alone to resume my French lessons.
Gut check: if your office-mate torques you off, do you publish that person's name and tell your Facebook friends to call your boss?
Mr. Powers suggests that Stanley County School District needs a social media policy on which to base its firing. He should back the blog-truck up and look at the SCSD complaint policy, which is pretty standard for school districts. It says complaints go to your building principal first. If that doesn't bring resolution, you go to the superintendent, then the school board.
The text Powers attributes to Zakahi says he complained, but doesn't specify to whom. We can only speculate how much if any of the proper complaint procedure Zakahi followed.
Mr. Powers wants to rev up the First-Amendment engine here (cue Lee Greenwood and PP's invocation of "American troops overseas giving their lives for the cause of freedom"). But if we were arguing a simple case of First Amendment expression that trumps workplace complaint procedures, we'd have to acknowledge that Zakahi's co-worker may claim a First Amendment right to express herself with her treatment of the flag or just freedom from a compelled expression of respect, at which point Texas V. Johnson (1989) will step in and kick the snot out of South Dakota's flag desecration statute.
I impulsively sympathize with folks punished for speaking up. I recognize (keenly, practically, every second I'm in my classroom) the public's interest in making sure we run our schools right. When schools aren't doing the right thing, someone should blow the whistle.
But here's tonight's bedtime question: Does negligent flag-handling constitute a whistle-blowable offense?