It’s as patriotic as apple pie and baseball. The American Flag. A group of Johnston County veterans says Johnston County Schools are stopping them from handing out miniature US flags to elementary students.
The Johnston County chapter of 40 & 8 has 48 active members, all war veterans. The nationwide focus of 40 & 8 is to distribute flags to first graders and to provide scholarships for nurses.
In 2003, the group began distributing miniature flags to first graders in Johnston County Schools. “For three years they allowed us to go to all the elementary schools in Johnston County – first grade classrooms – and present the flags,” according to Ken Parker, the local Commander. “We go in and ask, do you know what the red, white and blue stands for, what the stars stand for?”
In 2006, Parker says they were told the US flag distribution was “disruptive to the classroom” and we could no longer hand out flags. Parker said he questioned the reasoning, claiming the distribution only took 10 to 15 minutes from start to finish.
“They told us it was a good idea to leave them in the office and we’ll take care of it for you,” Parker recalls. “And we abandoned it for several years.”
Ken Stith, Chairman of the Johnston County 40 & 8, say the group began talking in 2015 about restarting the flag distribution program. “We tried to start it but ran into a brick wall. They told us to leave the flags in the office and they would give us a photo opportunity. We could care less about a photo op. We wanted to speak with the students directly.”
In September 2015, Stith says he met with then Deputy Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow, who is now the current Superintendent. “He liked the idea and said he had no problem with it but he needed to check and to come back in two weeks. When I returned a few weeks later he handed me a three sheet guideline about giving. He said the reason was to prevent people from giving out the Gideon Bible and the Latter Day Saints version of the Bible. They drew up guidelines to prevent any items from being distributed.”
In the second meeting Stith said he was told, “they would give us a photo opp at one school but it would be up to the school administration, they would handle distribution.”
Afterwards, he met with the 40 & 8 group and members decided against leaving the flags in the school offices. One of the members was a Wake County Schools employee. They suggested they go to a private school.
Stith said he contacted Neuse Charter Executive Director Dr. Julie Jailall who said, “Come on in. This is what we need.” On Wednesday, the group distributed 201 flags at the school.
During the presentation Stith and Parker mentioned they were prevented from distributing flags to first graders in Johnston County Schools. A WTSB News employee who was covering the event reached out to Tracey Peedin Jones, Public Information Officer, with Johnston County Schools to inquire.
Jones said in the initial conversation last September the representative was told they would have to be approved and that there was a distribution policy. “After working with the Superintendent and the school board attorney, the person representing the Forty & Eight was contacted and given permission to distribute flags this year and in future years.”
In an interview Friday afternoon, Stith says the school system has not contacted him since the 2015 meeting when they were turned down.
“There was never any doubt we could not distribute flags,” Stith said. “The last thing we were told was that we could bring (flags) to the office and give us a photo opp.”
Stith says the group is looking for alternate methods to distribute flags to first graders. The group is also raising funds to buy flags for future distribution. A case of 144 miniature flags costs the group $30.
To make a donation mail checks to: Johnston County 40 & 8, 503 West Horne Street, Clayton, NC 27520.
History Of The Forty & Eight
The title of the Forty & Eight reflect its World War I origins. Americans were transported to the frontlines on French trains in rail cars labeled “40/8”, meaning the car had the capacity to hold either forty men or eight horses. This uncomfortable mode of transportation was familiar to all who fought in the trenches; a common small misery among American soldiers who thereafter found “40/8” a lighthearted symbol of the deeper service, sacrifice and unspoken horrors of war that bind all who have borne the battle.
The Forty & Eight was founded in 1920 by American veterans returning from France. Originally an arm of The American Legion, the Forty & Eight became an independent and separately incorporated veteran’s organization in 1960. Membership is by invitation of honorably discharged veterans and honorably serving members of the United States Armed Forces.