South Dakota Veteran/School Janitor fired after complaining about disrespect to US Flag
Got an email from my best friend this morning that was entitled "Just in case your blood pressure is normal this morning, let me fix that for you." The email was as advertised, and including a link to this story out of South Dakota:
A Fort Pierre man who said he was fired from a school district after posting photos of a crumpled U.S. flag on Facebook has obtained legal counsel to evaluate his options, and his lawyer said cooler heads can prevail in the matter.
Cesar Zakahi of Fort Pierre told several local media outlets that he posted the photos over the weekend to draw attention to the fact that a co-worker was disrespecting the American flag. Zakahi said the Stanley County School District fired him on Monday for posting the photos....
Zakahi, who is an Air Force veteran, claims a coworker would crumple up the American and South Dakota flags and put them on a boiler after taking them down from an outside pole. Joel Arends, a Sioux Falls lawyer, has been hired to represent Zakahi in the matter, and said Zakahi has, over the last month or so, reported to his immediate supervisor and to Hotalling that the flag was being mishandled.
He said Zakahi felt his complaint wasn’t being addressed, and the flag continued to be mishandled, sometimes being crumpled up on a boiler, other times being crumpled up next to toilet bowl cleaner. Arends said Zakahi posted the photos online only after the other worker didn’t change the way she handled the flag.
Now, there seems to be an element of he said/she said on this. The School District has issued a statement saying:
“The result of our investigation did not reflect a mishandling of either flag. We question the circumstances surrounding this matter and whether the pictures currently circulating are an accurate reflection of how the flags were stored.”
“The Stanley County School District stands behind its decisions and adamantly denies any allegation that the personnel decision was based on reporting of any mishandling of either flag.”
Now, I am trying to get more info right now, especially as luck would have it, since I know Joel Arends from some stuff we did together lobbying in support of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who supported the mission. I have a message into him, but his comments here seem very measured and appropriate, which is exactly what I expected of him (he's a really sharp dude):
“He’s (Zakahi) very adamant about treating the flag with respect,” Arends said. “He’s had friends who have been killed in combat, in Iraq and other wars. He’s relayed to me he’s seen the flag on their coffins, and feels the way the flag is being treated in this case is very disrespectful.”
Ultimately, the issue doesn’t need to turn into a legal battle, Arends said, adding Zakahi wants to start a dialogue with the school district and teach them the proper way to treat the flag, and regain employment with the district. “He’s an all-around good guy who is sticking up for his values, and doing what he thinks is right,” Arends said.
UPDATE: In case you want to weigh in, the Stanley County School Board can be reached by email or phone by getting the information AT THIS WEBSITE. Please be respectful if you do contact them.
UPDATEx2: I found the full statement of Board President Sarah Carter on the school's website:
February 6, 2013
To whom it may concern:
Each day we raise the United States and South Dakota flags with pride to welcome our students. We have tremendous respect for each flag and take this allegation very seriously. On January 31, 2103 we received an allegation involving the storage of our flags. We immediately began to investigate the allegation. The result of our investigation did not reflect a mishandling of either flag. We question the circumstances surrounding this matter and whether the pictures currently circulating are an accurate reflection of how the flags were stored. Regardless, we have taken measures to ensure that each flag is being properly cared for on a daily basis. The Stanley County School District does not now, nor has it ever tolerated disrespect of either flag.
We take this allegation seriously. We actively support our troops and veterans and their families. We acknowledge and share the concerns which have been put forth in the community. These are serious matters which have and will continue to receive serious consideration.
At present the matter is a personnel issue that must be dealt with according to law and established policy. The district will continue to respect the law and policy and also the confidentiality of personnel matters involving employees of the district.
The Stanley County School District stands behind its decisions and adamantly denies any allegation that the personnel decision was based on reporting of any mishandling of either flag. The United States and South Dakota flags represent the very values we are committed to instilling in our youth. We will continue to instill these values by modeling the appropriate treatment of each flag.
Sarah Carter Board President
OK. So the problem with this story is (like I said) it is he said/he said on the firing, but the School board can't exactly say why this guy was fired. Which leaves us in a sort of Catch 22. Either he was fired for putting out on Facebook that the flag was being just wrapped up and left places it shouldn't have been, or he was fired for another reason, and no one can tell us what that reason is because of privacy issues.
It doesn't leave us a lot to go on except the news reports. I could contact the school, but again, they can't tell us anything.
Either way, this is really bad publicity.
UPDATE x3: There is more information up at the Veterans for a Strong America website (which I believe is Joel's), including this jpeg of Mr. Zakahi's Facebook post that he had been fired.
It would seem that in saying what he says here, that it would wave confidentiality as far as the school. I wish they would see it that way, because I would still love to hear their reasoning.
You can go over there and see the pictures as well. If I understand the school's position, they claim the pictures were staged? Why would he have done that though? He posted them before he was fired, it would be odd to come up with a defense before something like your firing happened wouldn't it?