South Dakota Veteran/School Janitor fired after complaining about disrespect to US Flag

 
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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.

Sincerely,
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?

 

Posted in the burner | 29 comments
 
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Comments

Only question for the school board is would this matter have been handled the same way if it was a teacher instead of a janitor?

IT APPEARS THE BOARD OF EDUCATION AND ITS ADMINISTRATORS ARE "COVERING THEIR REAR" BY FAILING TO ACT UPON THE CUSTODIAN'S INITIAL REPORT OF DISRESPECT, AND THEN HIDING BEHIND PRIVACY REGULATIONS, WITHOUT REVEALING THE TRUE REASON FOR TERMINATING OUR AMERICAN VETERAN'S EMPLOYMENT WITH THE DISTRICT! LET THE TRUE FACTS BE KNOWN. ILW

Wonder if the media would have made more noise if it was a Mexican or Muslim flag. These schools are teaching children to be disrespectful to the nation and people. History is not being taught correctly, it is being rewritten to cover up all wars our nation has been in, and emphasis is on the gender differences and racism to compensate for the past. Dumbing down the future of the States.

I am a proud member of Daughters of the American Revolution. It was our forefathers that fought for freedom in our country and deserve absolute respect after having endangered their lives for others.
The board of education needs to be replaced with true Americans if this is the type of example they are setting for our next generation.

Reading this article about the firing of our Brother Veteran Cesar Zakahi made me quite irade. I am a member of Post GRO9 of the Dept. of France,in Neu Ulm,Germany and a veteran of 24 years`service.
It is appalling to read such garbage from this school district in the great State of South Dakota.Could
it be that the "ACLU" is behind all this and possibly other anti-American organizations? I wonder what
their argument might be......

ACLU?? Get real P.T.E

AS A VETERAN OF 22 YEARS I FIND ANY DISRESPECT FOR THE FLAG TO BE THE SAME AS THE ENEMY DOING THE SAME THING. IT IS A REAL SHAME THAT WE HAVE THESE GRAVE DIFFERENCES ABOUT IT. DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY HAVE DIED(MEN AND WOMEN) TO PROTECT OUR FLAG. THE SCHOOL BOARD IS NOT DOING ITS JOB BY IGNORING THIS IMPORTANT INCIDENT. IS THE MAN THAT DISRESPECTS THE FLAG A VET ? THE FIRED ONE WAS AND THIS IS WHAT HE GETS FOR DEDICATION.

Does anyone know where we can contribute to his defense?

There are a lot of possible stories associated with this story, but none can possibly make what the school board did anything less than reprehensible.

First, since when has the school become responsible for censorship on an individual's personal web page, facebook, or other electronic media? I have the opinion the school is becoming anti-veteran and snooped to find an excuse to fire the janitor.

If I see someone desecrating the flag, I will be the first to say something to that person. I have fought under and for our flag and no stupid administrator is going to tell me what I can and cannot put on my personal pages.

Menachem, it became their right [sic] when they started monitoring the students personnel fb pages. Big Brother trying to get away with things. I'm a veteran served from '79 to '85: Greneda and Lebenon. I live in CA and have seen our Country's Flag in some very ugly situations. From torn and dirty, to just not being taken care of correctly. I just want to take the people responsible and throttle them. I was a teacher here in CA. going through college to receive my teaching credential was difficult for me, as the professors were all up in their Ivory Towers preaching on how we should be doing things as teachers when most of them have never spent anytime in a classroom except when they themselves were growing up. Disgraceful in my opinion!

I wonder if the school even knows how to store the flag, and can they prove that that is the way it was handle. It would be nice to know and would not need any confidentiality excuses. What has happen to this country, when I was in school the children were responsible to raise the flag prior to the start of school and take it down and fold it before properly storing it at the end of the school day. I can almost guarantee 9 out of 10 adults in that school system did not know how to fold the U. S. Flag properly, before this all took place. It is time we as Americans take back our school system and the veterans insure that the respect for our flag, which our country has fought and died for is taught in all our schools.

I GREW UP WITH THE FIRST THING WE DID AT SCHOOL IN THE MORNING WAS PLEGE ALLIGANCE AND SING MY COUNTRY TIS OF THEE . WE ALL HAD RESPECT FOR THE FLAG. BUT NOT TODAY ,LIKE BACK IN 1958, WHEN THE COLD WAR WAS JUST STARTING . THE COLD WAR MY COME BACK RESPECT THE FLAG OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA....................

I truly hope the school district has a good valid different reason for firing this gentleman, and it is not due to him commenting about disrespect to the flag. As a veteran of the korean war in the 50's, I have seen this country go downhill with its respect to our country, veterans, and the flag. The children of today still have to be informed about the sacrifices made over many many years of men and women to keep this country free.

I believe Zakahi and his statements. I have seen this done many times over the years by no veterans and people who just don't care to respect the US Flag. Ms Carter must be a Psychic as she can see and talk about acts that occur 90 (2103) years in the future. She needs to proofread her statements. I hope he gets his job back and the others get fired for their ignorance and disrespect for the US Flag that gives them their freedoms. USAF Vet,

I have to ask, why should our childern have respect when our leader fails to show respect for it. We have started down a slippery sloooope. when we allowed prayer to be removed from school, plus the pledge to the flag. It was at the beginning of the 1st. class every day, when I started school. I really believe this is why we have so much trouble in school. There is not any honor to strive for

To the school that fired the vet for doing what any normal American would do. Shame on you! Between you, state government, and federal government, is the reason there is no respect for anything. It's all about money, headcount, getting votes, etc.. It is time you people on school boards, and government, "get your heads out!". Allot of people through the years have lost their lives and limbs defending the flag. You people need to attend school and learn about the flag. I totally support Zakahi. I hope he and his lawyer teaches you a lesson. Good luck MR. American Zakahi!

All the important things in life are pushed to the back of the agenda for what? Let's get back to the true values our country was founded on. School board! shame on you. mishandled from the git go. What happened to the day we said the pledge of allegiance, sang patriotic songs, and learned respect for our country's flag?

Smith, USN BM3 viet nam vet.

It seems to me that the most likely reason Mr. Zakahi was fired was that he had injured himself. In many states this is a common practice. Terminate an employee before they become a financial liability to the employer. In most cases they wouldn't admit to this for legal reasons and it appears that the flag issue came at just the right time. If the school board wishes to do the right thing they will reinstate Mr. Zakahi and save face with the school children as well as the community.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Stanley County School District: As an age 87 former Minnesotan, I always have had a high regard for N & S Dakota people and states. I have a hunch this fellow Zakahi has a valid complaint, and as a fellow veteran, not too many people other than veterans have the love and respect of the American Flag but us. If you folks were born and raised in America and in the Midwest, and are "of age", you'll have it too. Former Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, most churches, and veterans do not like to see the symbol of America mishandled. Please regroup and see the facts as they really are. If he was a good janitor, bring him back with apologies. Thank you!

We just came back from Korea, where there I was 60 years ago during the War. Part of our trip was at an elementary school, where we watched the kids perform and the teachers and principal addressed us. They teach the children how great the Americans are to have helped them! The kids waved American Flags when we arrived and departed! Our flag means good Americans, and should be nurtured as such by everyone. Mr Zakahi has a valid point, and please regroup and really find out the facts. If he reported the truth, offer him the job back with apologies and a pay increase! Thank you!

I find it difficult to believe that a person would be fired over a posting on Fasebook. I have thirty years service in the US Air Force and have traveled all over the world and have watched sadly the disrespect shown by our US Citizens toward our US American flag. Usually, when our flag passes in review those getting to their feet or remain standing our are veterans or families of those who have served in our Armed Forces. Civics should be a required subject in all of our schools with emphasis on caring for our Flag, official birds, national treasures and our Monuments.

This is not surprising. It is embarasing the way our veterans are being treated by our Government. The school system would not stand up for him the same way they they did not stand up to the one women who took GOD out of the classrooms.. SAD!!!

What about his 1st Admendment Rights - Remember -"Freedom of Speech"

This story has mis-communication written all over it. Cesar, did you speak with your co-worker about proper flag etiquette? Cesar, did you raise this issue with school management before resorting to a FB posting? The whole situation is embarrassing for everyone - it seems to me that a chain of command conversation could have corrected the issue. As a Massachusetts resident, I would expect reactionary behavior from school execs in Cambridge; certainly not in North Dakota..

Another incident of indifference to an American veteran. Brother, please get out of that miserable place and come to the panhandle of Florida where your service and ideals are appreciated.

If I read the story correctly, the School Board was under the impression that Cesar posted the photo and comments on their FB page. Being a FB user, I think it more likely somone else Shared the photo and message Cesar posted on his own page and that it is how it got on the School Board's FB page.

If an employee posted a complaint on a public web page without reporting it via the proper chain, that could be a reason for dismissal.

I also wonder about the other employee. There was mention that it was a she. I wonder if she is also a minority or have other connections within the School Board and thus afforded extra protection.

the flag? wheres my dd-214 and military records at? why is my work history blank under my s.s, number off and on thru the past 31 years (because somebody in a gvernment office purposely put my records under another number) but nobody in the administrative, legal, judicial or investigative units will do anything about it, because another government office was responsable for the curruption) wheres my 10,800 dollars i sent home in military alotments why am i missing 13 yrs of income tax returns? why do i have two s. s. numbers? and you people are worried about a flag? really, for real?! m.l. dye us army combat engineer veteran (12b10) thanks for nothing!

There is much misunderstanding about folding of the flag. When the flag is presented at a military graveside, it should be folded into the tri-cornered manner. When it is taken down at night and stored until the next day, it does not have to be folded in the tri-cornered manner. I have seen school children after school attempting to fold it in the tri-corner manner and have assisted them as that is what they wanted to do at that time. When storing the flag overnight for reposting the next morning, simply folding it neatly into a rectangle is sufficient.
The other comment about flag is that the law was changed a while back allowing veterans in or OUT of uniform to salute the flag during the playing of the National Anthem. Someone told me to remove my hat at a basketball game a few days ago and I told him I can now salute in or out of uniform. Check it out. It is true. The biggest desecration is continuing to fly a flag which is beyond a serviceable condition. There are proper ways to dispose of an unserviceable flag. Contact your local veterans organization to find out how. A formal flag disposal service is a very moving experience in my opinion. As Chaplain of our local American Legion post and Chaplain in a civilian Chaplain organization I participate in many flag folding ceremonies. It is a source of great satisfaction to fold our flag and present it to the family of the departed individual. God Bless America.
Ted Blevins, veteran Indiana Air National Guard, United States Air Force and Indiana Army National Guard.

When is the trial date and location? I'd like to be there to stand a "flag line" to support Cesar Zakahi of Fort Pierre as he enters the trial location. Maybe be in the courtroom TOO!

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.