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    Schoolchildren's flag on fence torched

    Safety Harbor Elementary pupils vow to remake the flag they fashioned from ribbons tied to a chain-link fence.

    By LEON M. TUCKER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 31, 2002

    SAFETY HARBOR -- It took days for the tiny hands to twist and tie the red, white and blue ribbons to a chain-link fence at Safety Harbor Elementary School.

    In the wake of the events of Sept. 11, the kindergarten class created a mosaic of the American flag to show their pint-sized patriotism.

    But Tuesday night the hundreds of ribbons were set on fire, leaving the once colorful display charred and melted along the bottom of the fence.

    "I was so disgusted," said principal Debbie Ramker. "The idea someone would take it upon themselves to do something like this. . . . And the children worked so hard putting it together."

    Safety Harbor firefighters were called to the school at about 9:30 p.m. to fight the small fire. But fire officials could find no witnesses, nor were there any leads on how or why the fire was set.

    "There is nothing to go on at this point," said Dave Pacheco, Safety Harbor fire spokesman. "But we, in conjunction with the Sheriff's Office, will be keeping an eye on the area for any suspicious activity."

    Ramker said she received a call Tuesday night from the school's campus police officer that the 8- by 4-foot flag had been set on fire. The following day she called a meeting with faculty members and discussed how they would break the news to the children.

    Molly Sexton, one of the kindergarten teachers, said creating the flag gave teachers the opportunity to discuss patriotism and other topics associated with Sept. 11.

    The idea for the flag came two months ago when faculty members heard that the students at Plumb Elementary in Clearwater created a similar display.

    Sexton said the children were saddened but "very mature" when they learned their flag had been ruined.

    "They were very curious and wanted to know what happened," she said. "They all wanted to go over, look at the ground and see what was left."

    Even though it took the children a long time to create the first flag, they decided to make another one, Sexton said.

    But this time the flag will be located on a section of fence on the other side of the playground. School officials hope that by moving the flag away from the sidewalk, it will be less vulnerable to vandals.

    "The thing that got me was when one of the little girls asked what we would do if the next one was burned down," Sexton said.

    Sexton said she answered the question, saying: "I'm not sure. What would you want to do?"

    The little girl, Sexton said, responded, "We'll build it again!"

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