The way Dylan Eckstein and his buddies figured it, painting their bare chests into a collective American flag for a school-approved video was patriotic.
But now the three Kearney High School seniors are in the middle of a flap that got Eckstein — a member of Missouri’s Army National Guard — suspended from school Thursday.
“I was pretty much the one who was standing up for my rights, you know,” Eckstein said shortly after being suspended for the day. “I was asking, ‘Why can’t we do this? Why can’t I show the American flag?’ ”
The school’s principal said the issue wasn’t the flag but the students’ bare chests.
Eckstein and the friends are convinced that it was his open questioning of authority that got him in trouble.
Eckstein, Jackson Specker and Taylor Snider, all 17, painted their chests as part of a school-promoted video in which many of the school’s 900-plus students dressed in costumes or school uniforms and lip-synced the Cher Lloyd song “Oath.” Students wore funny glasses and hats. The swim team members, chests also bare, wore their Speedos.
When a teacher saw the three boys with their bare chests emblazoned, they were told to put their shirts on. Specker and Snider did. Eckstein questioned the request and was pulled into the school’s office.
“I think it is an unfair use of power,” said Specker, responding to questions about the incident by texts. “When Dylan got sent to the office, I followed him to defend him. He didn’t get to reason with them.
“Once I got there, I talked to them, and all they said was that we told you not to. After a while, they did tell me that it is inappropriate to have our shirts off. But I brought up the fact that the swim team is in Speedos and they just said we told you not to.”
Principal Dave Schwarzenbach said he could not speak specifically to an incident involving any single student, but he did say that the issue had nothing to do with the American flag. He said the video was meant to foster school spirit. As part of that, students who participated in school sports were allowed to wear their uniforms. For the swim team, that was their Speedos.
“The only ones who were allowed to not wear shirts were the boys’ swim team,” Schwarzenbach said. “The students knew the expectations.”
Dylan Eckstein’s father, Herschel Eckstein, ended up picking his son up at school. He said he supports his son’s actions. Dylan is patriotic, he said.
“He is in the National Guard. He’s been to basic training and everything,” Herschel Eckstein said. “No, I don’t think it’s right. The principal told me that all the other kids had to follow the rules except for the sports teams. I was like, well, I could see where Dylan would feel upset about it.”
Snider said he and Specker tried to show support for their friend.
“We actually went over and stood by the swimmers, and people were also violating the school’s policy,” Snider said. “We actually got in trouble later for standing next to the people who were half naked.”
Taylor Snider’s mother, Mona Snider, said she admires the boys’ loyalty.
“I think it’s cool that they support each other,” she said. “I can understand that school’s perspective that they don’t want anyone with their shirts off. But I don’t understand the thing with the swim team.”