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DWC: Custodian Publishes Co-Worker’s Flag Disrespect and Name, Gets Self Fired

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?


  1. JoeBoo 2013.02.04

    1. No, it doesn't. I don't have a problem with him notifying people, or even if he told multiple people about this. But when you make that statement online and try to get a campaign to fire someone out of the issue you are asking to be fired.

    2. Would PP's have raised the same issue if it was the same issue, but was a very liberal issue, rather then a flag issue?

    3. I do agree though that proper flag treatment should be followed.

  2. mike 2013.02.04

    Let's hope someone talks to this person and let's them know why it's important to treat the flag with respect.

  3. Taunia 2013.02.05

    We'd like to see his personnel file. I think we may be safe in assuming without that file that his complaints about the way a flag is handled is not the only reason he was fired.

    I also don't see indication that he took responsibility in folding the flag the way he wanted or believed it should be like a patriot would, but rather waited for others to fold it incorrectly and make hay.

  4. larry kurtz 2013.02.05

    PP is posting under multiple names as usual: his 'Julie' persona represents Pat's true hatred for himself. Pathetic, really.

  5. Troy Jones 2013.02.05

    I went to High School with Cesar (pronounced "Say-zar"). The community of Pierre/Ft. Pierre will rally around him and not just because it is about the flag.

    Justice is giving another his due. Even if one assumes the worst facts against Cesar regarding this issue, most who know the whole of Cesar will recognize firing him was not just.

  6. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.05

    I'm surprised the religious zealots haven't raved about flag idolatry.

  7. Troy Jones 2013.02.05

    Doug, if you knew Cesar, you would know this is not right. Trust me on this. Making this just about the flag (either side), free speech, employment rights/responsibilities is in some ways secondary. Doing right by people transcends alot.

  8. Q 2013.02.05


    I agree that doing right by people transcends alot; however (and I hate to add a however), we barely know the story as it stands now. What does seem clear though is that Mr. Zahkai went over the heads of his superiors in reporting on this matter. Regardless of how nice he is, or how noble his intentions are/were, by doing what he did he effectively erroded the trust his superiors are able to put in his work. If I did this type of thing I would be fired on the spot, as would any subordinate of mine that did the same thing. Actions have consequences. I know I sound preachy, and I am not trying to be holier than though, but if this person was not a personal friend of yours, yould you go to bat for them in the same way? I would not; for family or for friend. Making stupid mistakes is a part of life.

  9. Troy Jones 2013.02.05


    You are most correct. If he wasn't a person I knew, I would be less likely to go to bat for him. I agree actions have consequences. And, I agree you don't know all the facts (either do I). But most important, you don't know the whole of Cesar.

    At the same time, people must be treated justly. For some people, termination would be justified. Cesar is one of those person's for whom justice demands a different action. It isn't about how nice he is. Nice can be over-rated.

  10. LK 2013.02.05

    On a serious note, based on the facts now in the public eye, it seems that there were many options other than termination available.

    On a less serious note, I see this situation becoming a Lifetime network movie that concludes with Mr. Zahkai rehired as a school sentinel if/when HB 1087 becomes law.

  11. Jenny 2013.02.05

    Seems to me the case for being fired on this issue will depend on if there were any school policies on posting photos online.

  12. Q 2013.02.05


    Fair enough; I commend truthfulness, and your response is truthful to its core. This whole thing has me thinking of the many people I have let go at my job. I once fired a woman for walking to slowly. However, this was after I told her three nights in a row that if she did not speed up, she would be let go. My point in telling this story is not to sound like an ogre; I wonder how many times this "flag situation" was broached before the powers that be felt compelled to take the action they did. Regardless, it seems as though Cesar is quite beloved, and knowing that, it seems likely he will land on his feet just fine.

  13. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.05

    All kinds of organizations have regulation on speech of employees that can be made without consequences. I suspect these are often used to cover up incompetence, but can also understand why external attacks on an organization by a member can be viewed as disloyalty.

    Any veteran has probably been told not to publicly criticize a commander-in-chief while in miltary service.

    Also, (it may be in the stories) I wonder why the fired dude did not volunteer to handle the flag and do the job of the other person if he thought he could do it better or more correctly.

  14. Jim 2013.02.05

    Troy, what if this other employee became the victim of vandalism or assault as a result of this? Still OK because on the whole Cesar is an honest person? What about the next time he decides he can change policy he doesn't like? There has to be consistency here. It can't be for your friend and not for others. Plus, it also sounds like he had hardly even been on the job very long and he is shown to struggle in dealing with issues properly, and co-workers, then somehow injures himself? People just need to calm down an little bit. Cesar needs to be told that he was right to be uspet with the flag on the boiler, but he was wrong in how he reacted.

  15. Dave 2013.02.05

    Dumb question -- is it possible for just one person to properly fold the American flag? Every bit of instruction I've found in my research begins with an instruction similar to this: "To properly fold the flag, begin by holding it waist-high with another person..."

  16. grudznick 2013.02.05

    Mr. Jim. I bet this other employee is hunkered behind locked trailer door at this very moment with flaming bags of dog poo flying around the yard and odd loud music blaring loudly from rusted little pickup trucks slung 2 inches above the ground circling some block in Ft. Pierre, drowning out the lowing of cattle from the sale barn and the evil blaring of train whistles.

    Let this be a lesson to us all.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.05

    Dave, not a dumb question. To do it properly solo, you pretty much have to lay the flag on a table or some such surface (not the ground!). Does the other custodian have someone else on duty to help fold when the flag is taken down? And heck, why doesn't Stanley County assign this duty to students, the way we did at Montrose?

  18. grudznick 2013.02.05

    Mr. H has a premium idea. Assign this duty to a couple of good egg students. Problem solved. Mr. H for Superintendent of Stanly County High School!

  19. grudznick 2013.02.05

    Mr. H does your code of ethics you link to apply to the non-special non-teacher staff who don't have that magic tenure of non-fireability? I don't think those rules you mention apply to custodians. Would custodians have gotten bonuses under I'm just sayin...

  20. grudznick 2013.02.05

    Now Mr. PP had discovered that the school fat cat administrators are trying to hide the identifies of the elected board members. This smells like government coverup and you libbies should be all aquiver over this. Now it's a transparent and free information government problem and the libbies will argue the fat cats can hide this any way they want. Freedom of speech I suppose.

  21. Jim 2013.02.05

    Mr Grud, you seem like a nice young man, and i think i may known your grand dad. Some of us older fellas just don't cotton to people losing their marbles over things like this.

  22. grudznick 2013.02.05

    Seems too late for that, Mr. Jim. Back in your day you folks were diggin' up lead plates around the schoolhouse, today they're disrespecting the flag.

  23. Jim 2013.02.05

    Now, now Mr Grud. I reckon you walk around in some pretty darn big britches. You need to know that if Mr. PP says it is so so, it must be be. All this angry talk has me plum tuckered, and it is already way past my bedtime.

  24. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.05

    I'm not aquiver yet. But the Stanley County School Board isn't doing much to make itself look good in this case.

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.05

    Dang it, Grudz, you again totally miss my point. I show you the code of ethics that shows I have no magic tenure or non-fireability. Custodians have no such protection, either, and as I understand it, this one was on his opening 90-day probation, able to be fired for darn near anything short of being the wrong color or gender.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.05

    Jim, that sounds like my story at Madison HS: right to be upset with a bully picking on another kid, but not solving the problem by grabbing the bully by the collar. Facebooking the bully without following policy isn't the right solution, either, not for a school staffer.

  27. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.05

    Q: firing someone for walking too slowly? I can sympathize! Get a move on, people!

  28. grudznick 2013.02.05

    Maybe custodians SHOULD have that sort of protection. Why should they not?

    Some people view math teachers worthy of higher tenure than drama teachers. Track coaches better than chess coaches. Maybe custodians should get on this same plane.

    When the schools reign in their fatcat administrators, start treating all employees equal and quit whining, then they can demand more of my tax dollars.

    I'm just sayin...

    Unless you're sayin' that there are special protected classes of employees and custodians are not worthy. Then you're just sayin...and the rest of the world is just judgin' you.

    disclaimer: I worked as a custodian years ago

  29. larry kurtz 2013.02.06

    PP crowing about driving the patriot/janitor story is just another diversion from his own failures and foibles. Is SDGOP really that desperate to divert attention from Kristi Noem's lack of efficacy?

  30. larry kurtz 2013.02.06

    PP is touting serial loser Justin Rollins as the new campaign hack for an earth hater candidate Montanans refer to as Corey Stumblebum.

  31. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.06

    Saw down the flag pole and call in the VFW or American Legion to properly burn the flag. There is probably a flag in every classroom anyway.

  32. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.06

    Larry, it's straight out of the governor's playbook: before anyone starts thinking about what you're actually saying and doing, salute the flag and the veterans.

Comments are closed.