June 21, 2005

School Flag Ban

I'm always troubled by school district policies that seek to ban the Confederate flag. It is a symbol with a multiplicity of meanings, depending upon the wearer and the observer. Is it a racist hate symbol? The iconic image of ancestral heritage? A signe of rebelliousness? Or simply an advertising slogan (we have a "blody-art shop near school, patronized by all ethninc groups, called Southern Boys', that uses the banner as its logo)? What should schools do about the flag> And what CAN they do?

Personally, I think this district stepped over the line in its response to the Confederate flag. They want to ban every flag except the American flag, unless specific advance permission is obtained to celebrate a certain heritage on a particular day.

The proposed ban, which would be unique in the Tampa Bay region, was drafted by a district committee examining changes to the student code of conduct. In addition to barring students from wearing the Confederate flag, the proposal would keep them from wearing the flag of any other country, unless there is "a designated ethnic recognition activity held at the school."

The scope of the flag ban could make it vulnerable to litigation. Becky Steele, director of the West Central Florida region of the American Civil Liberties Union, said it was "overly broad" and would create "serious first amendment problems."

Barbara Renczkowski, president of the Hernando County council of PTAs and a member of the committee that proposed the change, said the ban had come up because officials wanted to head off students who might wear the Confederate flag to school. Members then decided to expand the ban rather than keep it narrow, Renczkowski said.

"It was an observation that it could possibly cause problems," Renczkowski said. "They just felt it would be easier to ban them all (except the American flag) instead of just one."

Now I see a couple of issues. First, there is the issue of Tinker v. DsMoines. Are these flags causing a disruption in school? It seems not, with the possible exception of the Confederate flag. But the article doesn't list any problems in this school. And even if the wearing of the flag makes some uncomfortable, does it rise to the level of a disruption under Tinker? After all, the First Amendment exists to protect speech that makes people uncomfortable.

Second, does this ban constitute the establishment of a political orthodoxy by the school district? In permitting the American flag at all times, but banning all others except when permitted by schools, does it have the effect of endorsing one position and penalizing all others? If so, it would seem to go beyond the limits set in the 1943 Flag Salute case.

Still, I'm interested inthe thoughts of others. What do you think?

» The Education Wonks links with: The Carnival Of Education: Week 21

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» The Education Wonks links with: The Carnival Of Education: Week 21

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