Battle Flag Debate Continues For Schools

Published: May 1, 2004

LARGO – More than three months after the Confederate battle flag roiled one Pinellas County high school, the school board likely will discuss whether it can be displayed anywhere in the district.

Board members will review the district’s Code of Student Conduct at a workshop May 12. The code book, revised every year, states what clothing, objects or behavior are prohibited in all Pinellas County public schools.

Controversy over the flag surfaced in January at Tarpon Springs High School, prompting board member Mary Brown to ask her colleagues to consider banning the Confederate symbol.

She’s had little support, though, and has recently introduced language for the student code that would prohibit symbols students might find offensive. That includes the Confederate battle flag or the swastika.

“Symbols on clothing or material that would possibly create an environmental climate that could be a distraction from learning and highest student achievement will not be allowed,” according to wording Brown suggests should be in the code.

Most board members have said they won’t support banning a symbol that is offensive to some but revered by others.

Besides, some board members noted, the district’s current policy allows principals to ban clothing that disrupts learning or risks harm to students.

One option to banning the flag, administrators say, is to strengthen each high school’s Principal’s Multicultural Advisory Committee, whose meetings serve as a forum for students.

But board member Linda Lerner said people are still waiting for an answer on the flag from the board. About 115 e-mails and letters on the issue have been sent to the board. The Clearwater branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has called for a ban of the flag. Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans regularly visit board meetings.

“There were very strong feelings, and their still are, on the Confederate flag,” Lerner said. “I believe the issue is alive, and I believe the board should address it.”

Meanwhile, the district is compiling results from a survey administered to high school students in the spring that asked them whether they think their school promotes tolerance of various racial and ethnic groups and what they or their classmates might do to welcome different perspectives.

This year at Tarpon Springs High, administrators suspended junior Krista Abram after she circulated an unauthorized flier and a petition calling for a campus ban of clothing or other items bearing a depiction of the Confederate battle flag.

In the ensuing weeks, the board discussed the symbol’s ban and Roy Kaplan, executive director of the regional office of the National Conference for Community and Justice, talked to Tarpon Springs students about respecting others’ opinions