SHS volleyball players kneel for anthem at New Hope

Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Superintendent Eddie Peasant said he is still “reviewing laws and policies” as to how the district can respond to the protests.

In a prepared statement he released Wednesday, he acknowledged the students had First Amendment rights to free speech. But he also indicated school officials were talking with the students about the impact of their decisions, as well as the fact they represent themselves, their teammates and their school during games.

“This is a national debate and a big issue in our country right now, and like most divisive issues, there are strong emotions on both sides,” Peasant said in his statement. “A student who attends Starkville High School has the same civil rights as any citizen.”

Peasant, though he would not say whether he agreed with the protest, told The Dispatch there was “a lot to be said” for the students paying attention to the national issue and deciding to be involved. However, he called the whole ordeal a “teachable” moment” for the students, especially those who may not have realized criticism would follow the protest.

“Sometimes, kids this age aren’t aware of the ramifications of decisions like this,” he said. “They need to understand the decision they are making, and whatever they decide, it needs to be something for which they are willing to deal with the consequences.”

Those consequences, at least on social media, came swiftly and in bulk.

Most posts criticizing the protest dinged the students for disrespecting the flag, a particular offense to at least one Facebook user who said she had family in the military.

Another Facebook user, who is a parent of at least one SOCSD student, invoked both her patriotism and her faith in her response.

“Shame on Starkville! This should NOT happen!” the post read. “There is a time and a place for everything but during the anthem & pledge of allegiance is not it! How about saying a prayer while on those knees!!”

Columbus Dispatch