Did school officials in the wealthiest county outside Washington, D.C. block students from celebrating an America-themed school spirit day for political reasons? Did school administrators even try to bully students who objected to their decision?
According to some students and parents —who assembled outside Loudoun County High School in everything from American flag gear to a tri-colored hat and waistcoat — that’s exactly the motivation Loudoun County High School officials had when they rejected the Student Council Association’s idea.
At an impromptu rally Monday morning — prior to classes starting for the day — parents and students gathered to celebrate America. After a few moments of cheers, many of the students concluding the gathering by marching around the grounds in a red, white, and blue column while singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The students then headed inside for their 9 a.m. classes.
Starting late last week, parents and students began to wonder if LCHS administrators had scrapped the idea of having an America-themed spirit day altogether.
Multiple students and parents told me at today’s rally and over the weekend that they had heard the Student Council Association’s idea was shot down after being labeled “too political,” and that it had the potential to “cause bullying” — claims which the school district flatly dismisses.
One student, 18-year-old senior Daniel Eisert, even wrote an op-ed to the editor of LoundounNow — a local newspaper — calling out what he perceived to be “an underlying tone taken by some school administrators that does not necessarily bring an America-appreciating student joy.”
His letter continued:
“Since when was being American too political? The celebration of the United States, if anything, is a unifying force bringing people together of all backgrounds and cultures in an environment that promotes freedom and democracy in a unique fashion,” the letter reads. “We are all Americans. American patriotism should be fostered in our public schools rather than discouraged.”
“The administration is sending a harmful message that American patriotism is shameful,” it concludes. “This is dangerous and unacceptable.”
Loundon County Public Schools Public Information Officer Wayde Byard dismisses these claims, and called the situation the result of a “misunderstanding.” He told me Monday that the administration simply opted for different spirit days than the one the school had observed before, turning down the idea in favor of a more diverse mix of themes. Byard also claims that the school had had similar “red, white, and blue” days in the past.
“A lot of people got second and third-hand information and started running with it on social media,” Byard said. “When the student body got together today was declared ‘America Day’ and there was no problem. I think if that had been done to begin with a lot of controversy would have been avoided.”
Kathy Rexroad, a local mother of five holding a sign during the rally that read ‘Celebrating America is what unites us,’ disputed such claims, saying she’s had a child in the school since 2008 and has yet to see a specifically America-themed school spirit day.
Furthermore, another story published Friday at NBC Washington shows one of the forms sent to the administration with a patriotic themed day clearly crossed out.
But the controversy didn’t stop there.
In response to being informed that there would be no America Day, Eisert said he and others went about putting up pro-America posters around campus last week. These, he claims, were removed by the administration, who used security cameras to “identify and aggressively question” the students involved.
“They were basically limiting our free speech” by taking down posters on school bulletin boards, Eisert told me, clad in a stars and stripes-covered top hat with a matching necktie. “It was shameful.”
The posters were taken down, Byard told me, because the students who put them up did not obtain permission from the administration, which led to the signs being taken down and the students being questioned by school officials.
Nonetheless, following the pressure from parents and students, the administration eventually gave in and allowed the day to go through. “America Monday” was marked by jovial teenagers some of whom even flew large American flags flying from the backs of cars in the student parking lot.
In fact, the collective effort to make sure the observance happened made the event all the more memorable for some.
“The excitement that they have and the patriotism that they’re displaying is neat to see,” says Rexroad. “I think they’re more enthusiastic about this than they would be for any other day.”
Standing amidst the tricolor crowd holding an American flag-emblazoned umbrella, Loundon County School Board member Jill Turgeon told me that she was primarily there to “celebrate the students” whose efforts led to the outdoor rally.
“I’m really here celebrating our students,” she told me, noting the widespread, grassroots effort from LCHS students to make the day happen. “Whatever the reason for the denial initially was, they came together to get America day granted and it looks like they’re having a great time.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article listed Wayde Byard’s position as “School Spokesman,” when he is, in fact, the school public information officer.