A tour bus filled with Anderson County school officials traveled to Knoxville Tuesday for a preliminary hearing on a constitutional rights case involving a student who wants to wear Confederate flag apparel to school.
“This has to do with whether our school board policy and code of conduct will be upheld,” Director of Schools V.L. Stonecipher explained Wednesday.
He said the tour bus carried most of the system’s principals, administrators and some assistant principals to the U.S. District Court in downtown Knoxville. Stonecipher said he reasoned that renting a tour bus was cheaper than paying gas mileage and parking fees for each of the officials to attend the hearing.
Some of the administrators had to testify, others were there to listen. A school bus could not be used because the buses were needed to transport students home from school and the officials didn’t get back from Knoxville until about 4 p.m.
Andy McKamey, transportation director, said the tour bus would normally cost about $650 a day, but Anderson County schools rented the bus for only $400.
Stonecipher estimated that based on information he’s received, Judge Thomas A. Varlan could make a decision on the matter in the next 30 to 60 days.
Last November, Anderson County High School student Tom DeFoe and his father, Phil, filed a lawsuit against Stonecipher, the Anderson County Board of Education, Board Chairman John Burrell, ACHS Principal Greg Deal, Sid Spiva, Anderson County Career and Technical Center principal and its assistant principal, Merl Krull.
In the suit, they charged that the student’s constitutional rights were being violated because he wasn’t allowed to wear apparel featuring the Rebel flag. The DeFoes are represented legally by Kirk D. Lyons of the Black Mountain, N.C.-based Southern Legal Resource Center Inc. and Knoxville attorney Van R. Irion.
In the lawsuit complaint, the DeFoes stated that Tom DeFoe wore various items of clothing depicting the Confederate flag on several occasions this school year and was told it violated the schools’ policy concerning the dress code.
He obeyed their instructions to cover or remove the clothing.
However, according to the suit, last Oct. 30 he wore a T-shirt bearing an image of the Confederate flag and the words, “If you have a problem with this flag you need a history lesson.”
The suit stated that ACHS Principal Deal told DeFoe to turn the shirt inside out or take it off, and the student refused and was suspended for violation of the dress code policy and insubordination.
He was against suspended on Nov. 6 when he wore a belt buckle with an image of the Confederate flag and refused a request by Krull, the vocational school’s assistant principal, to remove or cover it.
“(DeFoe) views himself as a Southerner and takes pride in his Southern heritage,” the suit states. A letter was sent to the School Board chairman in September objecting to the ban of the Confederate flag as a violation of the student’s First Amendment rights and asking for a meeting.
Jerry Shattuck, the School Board’s attorney, responded with a letter stating that although the dress code does not specifically address Confederate flags, the policy on “Immoral, Disreputable and Disruptive Conduct” includes a ban on racial slurs. He also cites the policy on “Hazing/Discrimination/Harassment, Bullying/Intimdation.”
Shattuck also referred to the county schools’ history, including the bombing of Clinton High School in 1958 after the school was desegregated.
“Nothing has been that extreme since then, but there have been continuing incidents in the Anderson County school system, particularly the high schools and middle schools, which have involved racial issues. Some of those matters were as recent as the last school year. … They are of sufficient ongoing nature to, in our opinion, justify the uniform enforcement of our policies,” Shattuck stated in the letter.
Related to this issue of racism, Stonecipher said this week that principals had recently talked to an attorney during their principals’ meeting concerning any incidents at their schools that could be considered by others to be racial in nature.
He said this doesn’t mean that the incidents were racial, but might be perceived as racial.
The DeFoes are asking for the judge to award “damages, declaratory judgment and temporary injunctive relief to redress” the violations of the student’s constitutional rights.
Stonecipher said the county schools are represented by attorney Art Knight, who works for the county’s insurer, with assistance by Shattuck