Durant Students Host A Rally In The Student Parking Lot Before Administration Shuts It Down

Durant+students+host+truck+rally+in+student+parking+lot

Annabelle Salveson

Durant students host truck rally in student parking lot

Allie Sigl

After voting officially closed Tuesday night, rallies and protests erupted nationwide as both sides experienced backlash from the results. Locally, Durant High School experienced its own rallies as students advocated for their preferred candidate.

On the morning of Election Day, a group of students planned to meet before school to drive their trucks, which featured both American flags and flags supporting Republican incumbent, Donald Trump.

“It was pretty fun,” participant Michael Jones, said. “Me and all my buddies got together [with our flags and trucks]. We all met up at 39 & Keysville and got our Trump train together so we could pull into school in a line.”

The goal of the event, explained attendee Trinton Gibson, was to “show our overall support for America and President Trump and to practice our freedom[s] and rights as Americans.”

“We wanted to support our President [in hopes] he wins again,” said Dylan Coughlin, another participant.

In the student parking lot, trucks with flags lined up together in parking spots as students stood by, either by their vehicles or on their own trucks, taking pictures and videos of the participants. Besides loud music playing, event spectator Delaney Page described the event as “very peaceful.”

“It was a blast out there seeing all our trucks in a line with our Trump and American flags,” Jones said. “We were definitely drawing a lot of attention.”

Shortly after being outside, the gathering received attention from administrators around 8:15 am. Vice-principal, Andrew Holzbog, was first to notice the event after coming out for morning duty to watch over the student parking lot.

“As I walked out, I obviously heard the music playing and a lot of students migrating towards the music,” Holzbog said.

After finding out about the event, Holzbog and Gary Graham addressed the situation.

“The biggest thing was [the] congregating in times of COVID,” Holzbog explained. “We also felt that it [the event] could potentially take away from the academics of the day, and so we just wanted to remove any distractions while in the building.”

Holzbog said that he asked the participants to “shut [the music and flags] down. Not necessarily [because of] their support but just the way it was being handled at the time.”

“Even [if it were] for the best reasons, which I am sure they had very good intentions, if it causes that much of a distraction, then we will probably address that,” he said.

Following his instructions, the participants turned down the music and removed their flags; however, some left the American flags on their trucks.

“We all left our American flags up because we did not think it was a big deal [because] everyone at our school lives in America, no matter what political side,” Gibson explained.

Even so, once school started, those with American flags still up were called to remove them from their vehicles for distraction purposes.

“For consistency, when we went out there, we asked them to remove all flags,” Holzbog said. “If one person flies one flag and another person flies another, and we ask one person to take it down and not both, that is not very consistent as far as expectations go.”

Nevertheless, what might have started as an intentionally harmless student event soon developed and provoked those beyond Durant’s walls to respond.

“We did not want to start nothing,” Coughlin addressed. “We just did it to have a good time and show love for Trump and [the] American flag.”

Virtually, several parents and students took to social media to express their dissatisfaction with the administration and their actions.

“I had so much respect for Durant High School until today,” one person commented on Durant’s Facebook page. “How are you going to sit here and tell us to take down our flags? You tell us to take down the American flag, but yet in every classroom [and in front of the school], there is an American flag…you are taking away our freedom of speech. You are belittling us as the younger generation and trying to make us side and stand for what you believe.”

Other parents and students also left remarks about the event, claiming the school was “suppressing the views of students they don’t agree with” and limiting the “students’ first amendment rights.”

“We have the right to show our patriotism no matter what others’ opinions may be,” Page said.

Former student, Zoey Ward, also expressed her view of the event and how it was addressed.

“Yes, we all have different views and are entitled to them; however, telling students to take down the American flag, the symbol of our country, is downright wrong,” Ward said. “Those students had a right to free speech. I do not think any steps should have been taken unless something got out of hand.”

In response to the social media backlash, Holzbog has addressed his concern and understanding towards the students and parents.

“I get the folks who are upset about the American flag. We very much support the American flag and never want to downplay that at all,” Holzbog said. “But yesterday morning that consistency piece was going to be very important, and if we were not consistent, I think that would have caused some more issues.”

In response to the comments on free speech, Holzbog addressed his priority to create a productive and safe environment at Durant.

“When it comes to the events on campus taking away from learning, we are always going to step in,” Holzbog said. “If free speech starts a fight here in the cafeteria, we are going to step in.”

He also mentioned the administration’s concern towards the feelings of other students as well.

“It caused a bit of attention and that is never what we want. We want people to feel comfortable, [and] we want this to be a comfortable learning environment for everybody,” Holzbog said.

And while there are still many that disagree with these ideals, other students and participants understood the importance and ideology behind the administration’s initial decision.

“I believe that the administration handled it the right way because they did not want conflict starting in the student parking lot, which I agree with,” Jones said.

Coughlin had a similar response, stating his desire to avoid conflict in school and the decision that “[the participants], are probably not going to do it again.”

The next day after the gathering, students noticed a sheriff in the student parking lot near where the event took place. Despite the close concurrence, the administration claimed the primary purpose was to “keep a safe environment” for students.

“We try to keep an ear to the ground as far as what our students are facing each day, and sometimes that mirrors what people are facing in society,” Holzbog said. “Just his [the sheriff’s] presence sometimes discourages any events from taking place.”

Following this event, the administration is looking for clarification and guidance from district leaders on handling future situations to “represent Durant and Hillsborough county in a good light.”