School bus drivers around the country have mounted miniature American flags on their rigs in recent weeks, riding the wave of patriotism that has swept much of the nation since Sept. 11. But just as quickly as they went up, some drivers were ordered to remove Old Glory because its display violates safety regulations in some places.
Within days of the terrorist attacks in New York City and outside Washington, the Oregon education department issued a memo reminding district superintendents that under state law, “school buses may not display flags or any other exterior signs or ribbons.” The flags, the memo says, could distract drivers or block their view, putting student safety in jeopardy. Moreover, the memo says, if a flag falls off a bus, it could damage other vehicles.
Other states, including Pennsylvania and Virginia, also have rules prohibiting the banners on school buses.
The issue has also surfaced in some colleges and universities, but for a different reason. On Sept. 14, officials at Lehigh University ordered flags removed from its buses so non-American students would not feel uncomfortable. The order was quickly rescinded after students objected.
School employees in Los Angeles, though, can now put the American flag on district-owned cars, after the school board waived a rule that forbade such displays. The resolution, approved unanimously last week, does not grant such permission to school buses.
Law Not Enforced
But California law-enforcement officials who have authority over safety regulations for school buses are not necessarily enforcing a provision of the state vehicle code prohibiting signs and banners on the vehicles. Spike Helmick, the commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, recently told viewers of a television talk show in San Diego that officers would not enforce the law as long as the flags did not obstruct the drivers’ view or block turn signals.
“The CHP is not aggressively asking drivers to take their flags down,” said Anne S. Da Vigo, a spokeswoman for the agency. “We feel that law enforcement has other duties to focus on during this period.”
The California Highway Patrol is also responsible for protecting bridges, aqueducts, and other state installations, all of which were identified by authorities as possible terrorist targets.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, one school bus driver lost his job last month after arguing with a supervisor who said his flag had to come down.
A version of this article appeared in the November 21, 2001 edition of Education Week as Some Drivers Told to Remove Flags From School Buses