A photo of two Pennsylvania students standing on an American flag and flashing the middle finger on Feb. 13 has sparked controversy.
"I thought it was disrespectful. It definitely wasn't a representation of what Richland school district is," said Mindy Wadsworth, a Richland township parent, WJAC reports. "As a parent of a Richland student, I hope that's not how I would hope my child would act."
In the photo, a young man -- in what may be a classroom -- stands on the American flag while a young woman sticks out her tongue and gives the middle finger.
The boy later apologized, with his mother saying, "My son did a stupid and impulsive thing. He apologized immediately and regrets what he did. We appreciate the people reaching out with understanding and forgiveness.”
While many responded with outrage, one commentator -- a U.S. veteran -- said that while he was disappointed he would forgive the boy.
“I agree and a U.S. veteran I was very displeased by the photo. However I understand that kids make bad decisions and at least the boy and his family have issued an apology and wants to make up for the bad decision,” Quentin Pigza wrote on the school district’s Facebook page.
Richmond Township School District and the police are looking into the situation.
“This type of picture does not represent the opinion of the District or of its overall student population. The District promises a timely and thorough review of this incident and will implement appropriate legal discipline,” a solicitor for the school district said.
Authorities say they may not have the right to impose legal punishment.
"The Supreme Court made it clear that using the flag as part of a protest, even burning a flag, is protected by the First Amendment," said Witold Walczak from American Civil Liberties Union. "There could not be criminal charges brought against the students."
Even the school may be limited in what it can do to discipline the students.
"If it's a school owned flag and they somehow defiled it," Walczak said. "Then potentially there could be a vandalism rule violation."
"The message this picture sends is not justification to punish the students so the school needs to tread very carefully here," he added. "And look at whether or not the students violated any kind of school rule."