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Teacher disciplined after stepping on flag in Fayetteville classroom

Posted September 23, 2016

— The Fayetteville teacher who stepped on an American flag to teach a lesson about the First Amendment will face discipline, Cumberland County Superintendent Dr. Frank Till said Friday. Till did not say what that discipline would be, but the Fayetteville Observer reported that Lee Francis was suspended for 10 days without pay.

Till met with history teacher Lee Francis Thursday and reviewed statements from students and staff before coming to his conclusion.

"I have concluded that the actions of Mr. Francis were not an act of civil disobedience by the school or the Cumberland County Central Services. All agree that his actions were inappropriate. Therefore, I have determined discipline is appropriate based on violating our policies," Till said.

Francis, in an interview after his meeting with Till, stood by his lesson plan.

"This was a teachable method that I utilized in my classroom," he said.

Francis stepped on an American flag to demonstrate to his students that desecration of the flag, while an uncomfortable sight for many, is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.

"What I was trying to convey to my students is (that) freedom of speech is more than something that's verbal, it's more than something that can be written down. Freedom of speech also includes the burning of the flag," Francis said.

Francis was suspended from the classroom after school officials learned of the lesson.

Francis, who grew up in Cumberland County, hopes to soon be back doing what he loves in his hometown: teaching.

The Cumberland County district attorney is not charging Francis with any crime. While flag desecration is a misdemeanor in North Carolina, the district attorney said a Supreme Court decision -- the very one Francis was teaching his class about -- overrides state law.


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  • Dalton Dickens Sep 24, 2016
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    Maybe because I am old school, stood up in class and said the "Pledge of Allegiance" from an early age. To know, and learn of the many generations who died under that flag of freedom, the flag that brought us freedom from England, the flag that gave freedom to slaves, freedom from Germany and Japan during those dark days, and the freedom to be a good nation. We have our faults..but look around, what place would you rather be?? Tickets elsewhere are sold everyday, but nobody wants to make that move.. To me..he stepped on the very lives given, for him to be able to even make such a statement and was a sad move, in his part. He stomped on every member of our armed forces, who defend our freedom, to this day-under, that same flag.

  • Sick Ofhollywood Sep 24, 2016
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    View quoted thread

    The difference is intent. People throw parties during July 4th, and display the flag to honor it in different ways. They intend to honor the nation that gives them freedom. Stomping on the flag is stomping on the lives sacrificed for your freedoms. A 7 year old should know that.

  • Paul Parker Sep 24, 2016
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    Actually NO, Johnny Roberts, it is not! The US Supreme court has ruled that law was unconstitutional, and therefore the law is null and void.

  • Mary Whaley Sep 24, 2016
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    Isn't our country built on freedom? This teacher being punished for exercising his freedom and trying to teach the kids about freedom, is the exact opposite of freedom. Our country is going down a slippery slope.....

  • Ed Livesay Sep 24, 2016
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    We also have the right to defecate in the bathtub....but that doesn't make it a smart thing to do......

  • Paul Maxwell Sep 24, 2016
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    View quoted thread

    But it's OK to wear the flag as a shirt, or a hat, or a do-rag, or as a paper napkin to wipe grease from a face, or to stick one in the bed of a pickup truck and drive around with the flag ripped to shreds from wind drag? What's the difference? Evidently ''desecration'' is in the eye of the beholder...

  • Jeanne Allen Sep 24, 2016
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    I have mixed feelings about the action of this Mr. Francis. First, as a white person coming to terms with the gross inequities of our racial divide, systemically and culturally, providing advantage to whites, I can understand this young teacher's action and the need to encourage our right to protest. Stomping the flag is not the same as actual violence, but it is an act of anger and almost the same to any young person who has known someone hurt or killed defending our nation in war. As a former teacher of high school English, I also know that it is possible to teach the right to protest without using this extreme method. If Mr. Francis needs to express his strong protest publicly, the classroom is not the place. I also feel the school system is justified in the actions it takes in response. Mr. Francis is not, however, guilty of a crime. I weep and pray for our nation. We seem to be moving backwards from the advances in racial justice for which Mr. King gave his life

  • Ken Ackerman Sep 24, 2016
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    As some have said, just because an action is legal it's not necessarily right. Exercising a right does have consequences. In this case, at least three students were offended and took action. The teacher shouldn't be disciplined or fired for what he did. I think the lesson should have continued the next day with a discussion between the students and the teacher. The teacher appeared to respect all three students for the actions they took. A discussion between the students and the teacher might have taught a more valuable lesson to the teacher and the students.

    Americans have ceased to look for and work toward the middle ground. We all seem to think it must be "my way or no way".

  • Stacie Hagwood Sep 24, 2016
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    This teacher ROCKS! We need so many more teachers who are brave enough to teach outside the box, so that students become critical thinkers. (Perhaps if adults had such skills we wouldn't be facing our current slate of presidential candidates). And those who can't see the difference between someone personally expressing free speech in the classroom and TEACHING about it, obviously lack those same critical thinking skills. I also applaud him for not backing down about it. HOWEVER, all that being said, it would behoove him in the future to outline what he will do and why he is doing it and give it to the parents before the lesson takes place. Patriotism is not black and white and people need to be able to have thought

  • Linda Tally Sep 24, 2016
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    It's really sad that for 200 years our Constitution has stated our citizens have freedom of speech, but most of those same citizens have no clue as to what that actually means. I applaud this teacher - wish there were more like him in the classrooms across the nation.