by Bonny C. Millard
of The Daily Times Staff

A ban on clothing bearing the Confederate flag at William Blount High School was challenged Friday by several students wearing T-shirts with the emblem.

Principal Steve Lafon said Tuesday about a dozen students who wore the shirts were told to turn their shirts inside out to hide the flag.

School was out Monday to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Students gathered in the lunchroom before school started Friday morning, where they normally wait for school to start. A larger number of students than usual were congregating in one area of the lunchroom, Lafon said.

One student had an ad from a Knoxville newspaper telling them they had a right to wear the Confederate flag and was showing it to other students, Lafon said.

The ad, taken out by the Sons of Confederate Veterans on Jan. 5, references a ruling in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that favors students’ rights.

Lafon took the newspaper away from the student because students are not allow to have the Confederate flag or its representation at school.

Students were passing a petition to allow them to wear the flag on clothing, he said.

Students were adamant that they could do what they want in terms of wearing the symbol and “making quite a disruption in the lunchroom.”

They asked school officials if they would be suspended for wearing it and were told that they could be suspended for violating school policy, Lafon said. No students were suspended.

A parent at the school argued their case.

Lafon said the flag causes a disruption to the school day and is banned.

“It’s no different than anything that is a disruption to the learning process,” he said. “It just disrupts the whole learning process.”

Last spring, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office locked down the school amid racial tensions and threats against black students.

The Confederate flag means different things to different people, he said.

“It’s just a shame we can’t all see and be looking for ways to get along,” he said. “I think the timing of it was obviously unfortunate,” Lafon said, referencing the birthday of the slain civil rights activist.

He said when something like this happens and gets in the public eye, that becomes disruptive to the school, as well.

Confederate flags have been banned at the school for several years, but the ban wasn’t enforced the past couple of years until the racial incidents last April. The ban was reintroduced at that time and was continued this year, Lafon said.

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