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A group of students at Georgia’s Heard County High School recently defaced the American flag with the spray-painted message “Seniors2K18!” but instead of reaching for the student handbook, principal Brent Tisdale reached out to local veterans.

Tisdale spoke with the five students involved with the stunt and instead of suspension opted to create a “teachable moment” they won’t forget, Fox 5 reports.

“My initial thought was five days out of school, and no prom and all of that, but that, I don’t think, was teaching them what we want to do, which was to value and understand other people’s feelings,” Tisdale said.

The principal told the news site that the students didn’t seem to fully understand the connection between the flag and veterans.

“So I called Chief Hannah here at the Franklin Police Department and said, ‘Hey, do you have any vets that are on shift right now that can come up here and talk to the kids?’” Tisdale said.

Brent Tisdale’s actions align themselves well with the best research on moral formation of students. Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture emphasize the importance of modeling positive relationships with others. They write, “The importance of modeling the good is especially important in the public schools because explicit moral teaching is (or is perceived to be) fraught with disagreement, controversy, or legal challenges.”

A few firefighters and police soon arrived and took the boys to an empty room for a chat.

“We talked about how we chose to sign up and voluntarily defend that flag and their right to do what they did to it, as well as all of the family and friends and loved ones that have come home underneath that flag,” veteran Nikki Culpepper said, adding that she brought along a picture of Arlington Cemetery, where her grandfather is buried.

“Two of the young people - there were tears in their eyes - shook our hands, apologized, very remorseful,” Culpepper said.

In a Twitter message to parents, Tisdale wrote that while he doesn’t believe the students meant to offend veterans, they learned an important lesson about respect and community.

“I don’t believe their intention was to disrespect or insult the flag or country but that’s what happened,” he wrote. “Our community is great, all kids make mistakes, and it takes a village, folks. I hope we can work together, as a school and community, to continue to love our kids despite their mistakes.”

Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students will find information, strategies and teacher lesson plans at the UK's The Jubilee Centre.

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