School reverses flag ban
Johnston officials call it free speech

By ELLEN SUNG, Staff Writer
1/30/03

CLAYTON — Johnston schools Superintendent James Causby said Wednesday that Clayton High School will no longer stop students from wearing the Confederate flag after a parent complained that the ban was unconstitutional. Clayton High School principal Jerry Smith banned the symbol Oct. 30, when a group of students wore Confederate insignia to school on the same day in memory of a friend who died the previous year. Smith told the students the Confederate symbol violated the district’s dress code, which prohibits clothing that disrupts the classroom. Some students protested the next day by wearing the emblem again. School officials said the flag was sometimes an incendiary symbol associated with white supremacism, and the students agreed to change clothes. The debate soon died down.

"One day it was the hottest topic on campus, and two days later it was like it was gone," guidance counselor Rodney Allred said.

But Terry Shelton of Clayton, a Civil War re-enactment buff and parent of three Clayton High students, argued that the emblem had not actually disturbed class and that banning an emblem because of its potential for disruption was a violation of free speech.

"I do absolutely agree that that flag has been misused by a lot of white supremacist organizations, who I adamantly denounce," Shelton said. "My point was, you can’t preach tolerance if you pick and choose what you will tolerate."

He met with Smith, who stood by the ban, and later with Causby, who also upheld it.

The county Board of Education would have made a final decision in February. But Causby and school board attorney Jimmy Lawrence reviewed the legal precedents again last week and this time agreed with Shelton.

In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students had the right to express their opinions as long as they did not disrupt class — and that this freedom of expression extended to clothing.

"Based upon that, my attorney looked back, and we concluded he had some valid points here, and it’s better to handle this issue administratively than to make it a big issue," Causby said.

Jennifer Moon, a junior at Clayton High, said she didn’t think wearing the Confederate flag was a major issue before the ban was enacted. She said she has seen almost no signs of racial tension at school.

"I don’t think that anyone was really offended whenever they wore it," she said.

Many of her classmates were upset by the ban at first, Moon said, but they soon decided not to fight the policy.

"It’s not the biggest problem we have with the dress code," she said, rattling off a list of regulations about tank tops, skirts and shorts.

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