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Washington school officials ask teacher to remove Thin Blue Line flag from classroom

The flag was up to honor the teacher's brother, a former school resource officer. The flag violates district policy about teachers promoting political beliefs.

Controversy is stirring in Marysville after the school district told a teacher remove a Thin Blue Line flag from her classroom.

Chris Sutherland was a School Resource Officer at Marysville Pilchuck High School for six years.

“I've got the MP tattoo on my neck from the shooting and each one of the stars is for one of the kids that we lost that day,” Sutherland said.

He was there on Oct. 24, 2014, when a student opened fire on a table in the cafeteria, killing four classmates before taking his own life.

“I do believe from that point on, we really became strong and close as far as a community and law enforcement and the school district. And I just don't understand what fell apart,” he explained.

Sutherland’s sister, a teacher at Marysville Middle School hung two flags in her classroom to honor her siblings.

One for Sutherland, a thin blue line flag with pictures of him and the other, a Pride flag to honor her sister, who’s part of the LGBTQ community.

“She called me she was literally almost in tears because, you know, both those flags mean so much to our family,” Sutherland told KING 5.

She was ordered by Marysville School District to take down the Thin Blue Line flag.

Interim Superintendent, Chris Pearson, gave the district's reasoning in an open letter saying some concerns were raised about the display of the flag. Pearson said while the flag may be viewed as a tribute to police by some, it has also been used by hate groups, and carried by rioters during the Jan 6th attacks on the U.S. Capitol. 

“Without any educational context or purpose, the display of this symbol in a school classroom cannot be reasonably divorced from the political meanings that have been attached to its varied uses and, as a result, may send a mixed or even disruptive message to staff, students and families,” he wrote.

“That is not the message that needs to get out. It's, you know, that this flag is about protection, security, love and that's what we do as law enforcement,” Sutherland said.

Pearson went on in the letter explain why the Black Lives Matter and Pride flags are allowed in classrooms: “These other two symbols can be seen as having a specific educational purpose that is directly aligned with instructional objectives or extracurricular programs. For example, our students participate in several different extracurricular leadership activities, including our Black Student Union, Latino Student Union, LGBTQIA+ Club, to name a few.”

Sutherland is now fighting against the district for his sister to keep both flags up.

"This is something that is so dear to my heart right now because of my family and I'm not going to give this up, and it's not for me, it's for my sister for what she's already gone through,” he said, “I mean, I will always support you know, MP and Marysville schools, I just wish that we could come to some sort of terms about, you know, we need to keep all the flags.”

Sutherland ended his career in law enforcement this year to focus on recovering from the trauma and PTSD he experienced.

“I think what put me over the edge, I mean I know it did, is 2014. That incident after everything else that I've been going through and then the last even couple years you know, I just it was better for my mental health and for my family and everything for me to step back,” he said.

Sutherland and a fellow retired officer run a non-profit called Brothers in Healing that provides resources for people suffering from PTSD.

“All the money we get we put first responders and military into treatment when they can't afford it. They call us and we vet treatment facilities for trauma,” he explained.