By Guy Page
The new principal of Hazen Union High School welcomed back students with an assembly Monday, August 30 at which he reportedly said burning the American flag is an acceptable form of protest.
There are apparently no recordings of the event. His speech came after the assembly said the Pledge of Allegiance – itself a much-disputed action at the Northeast Kingdom high school. After parents and students protested in person and on the Hardwick school’s Facebook page, Principal Jason Di Giulio said he was misunderstood: he was just trying to bring people together.
“I explained that many say the Pledge with their hands on their hearts, and others would make different choices,” Di Giulio wrote last night on the open Facebook page. “I wanted the people in the room to understand that there were many forms of protest related to our flag. I spoke about some folks having their hands on their hearts, others stood with their fists in the air, and others knelt. Some, I said, even have chosen to burn the flag.”
“I intended that they would understand that the nation represented by that flag ensures their right to protest and express, but it doesn’t make all of those choices acceptable,” Di Giulio, a U.S. Army veteran, said. “As I noted in the assembly, and I believe still, the flag and its color represent a shared sense of community – courage, unity, and a purity of promise. I wore that flag on my arm and I believe in it and its promise.”
While some parents on FB supported his statement, others didn’t.
“My son came home very upset,” said Elizabeth Kaufman. “We have multiple family members that are or were in the military. That it’s okay to sit during the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance and that it’s okay to burn the American flag….Not ok.”
“Your ‘intentions’ made many, many students extremely uncomfortable and parents livid,” Sue Micknak Rivard said. “Most of the other students said they weren’t even listening to you after you went off on your tangent. Your political and personal views have no place in our school system. Furthermore, after the week our military had and what they are currently going through, why in the world would [you] even mention anything about burning flags? It’s not your job to teach the how to’s and history of protesting.”
“Royally really messed up” was how one listening student described Di Giulio’s statement.
Student Breonna Cochran agreed – and wondered why only flag protesters are allowed to express themselves.
As a fellow Hazen student, to be completely honest with you guys I stopped listening right when he started talking about it. Until I heard him bring up the fact how burning the flag is allowed, and how it’s OK to sit during the Pledge of Allegiance or kneel and standing with their fists in the air!! There needs to some kinda of punishment, absolutely disrespectful. I have many family members in the military Army, Navy and Air Force, etc.
“When we said the Pledge of Allegiance I stood up and put my hand over my heart and said it well looking at the American flag,” Cochran continued. “After it was done I let a student know that it was disrespectful to sit down and talk with a fellow student during the Pledge of Allegiance, when they are the ones who fight for our freedom, then a teacher proceeded to tell me that they are allowed to sit down and that I needed to keep my opinions to myself.. (freedom of speech?)!!!! what happened to our First Amendment, because we’re not even getting taught those in our school, after we have fought with the school to even say the Pledge of Allegiance in the first place. There needs to be an apology sent out to the parents and a schoolwide apology to the kids that had to sit there and listen to the bs.”
On the other hand, many commentators backed Di Giulio and the freedom to protest. Alumna Audrey Grant wrote: “Protest is the most American thing we can do, it was quite literally started with it. I spent many years at Hazen speaking up for what is right and protesting, even when that meant “disrespecting” rules or norms. How is that any different?”
James Johnson raised the question – if it’s okay to burn the American flag, is it also acceptable to burn the Black Lives Matter flag?
“If you believe it is acceptable to burn the American flag, do you also believe it to be acceptable to burn the BLM or pride flag as well? Yet another reason why we chose to homeschool our children..the hate and indoctrination bs in schools is unacceptable,” Johnson said. “Especially since it is our tax dollars paying for it. No respect…no honor.”
Di Giulio is a former U.S. Army officer, serving from 1991-2003, his Linked In page says. A graduate of Goddard College, he holds an Argosy University doctorate in providing safe schools for LGBT students. As reported in the 2012 Barton Chronicle, he has traveled in China, studying the nation’s educational system. He has been an educator in Northeast Kingdom schools since 2005. He was hired as Hazen’s assistant principal in July 2020. This year is his first as the school’s principal.
Di Giulio’s full explanation and all comments – pro and con – can be seen on the school’s ‘open’ Facebook page here.
This isn’t the first time observance of the American flag has been the subject of public acrimony at Hazen. In 2019, Hazen reinstituted the Pledge of Allegiance after a lengthy, and at times acrimonious public discussion.