By Adrienne Steinfledt

Confederate flags shouldn’t be banned from Ohio County public schools, the committee reviewing the district’s dress code policy said Thursday.

At the July 21 school board meeting, the committee will recommend the school board leave the dress code as it is, Superintendent Soretta Ralph said.

But committee members want the schools to start teaching both staff and students some sensitivity.

A diversity and tolerance program for all high school students has been ordered for the next school year. After that, each incoming class will go through the program.

But the adults need training too, Ralph said.

"We want to talk to our staff about tolerance and respect," she said. "Hopefully if we do that, it will carry over to our students."

If students are taught to be more sensitive to the impact of their clothing choices — including the decision to sport a Confederate flag — maybe they’ll take the initiative to avoid offending others, she said.

"We have a good group of students in Ohio County," Ralph said. "A lot of our students go to stores and buy things, and they don’t even know what they mean. The more knowledge they have of what they’re wearing, the more they’re going to make some good decisions and good choices."

The committee found there isn’t a legal basis to ban the flag because it has not itself been a disruption to the educational process, nor is it expected to be, Ralph said.

The push to get Confederate flags out of the schools was led by the parents of a biracial Ohio County High School student who was called a racial slur at a high school dance. Also last school year, a student at the high school was disciplined for writing a racial epitaph on a stick that was found behind the school.

Parents Tammy and John Outlaw asked the board to review its dress code policy and come up with a plan before the beginning of the next school year. At the time, they were adamant the flags and other racially-loaded symbols be removed.

Now, John Outlaw says he’s willing to try another route. He said he feels the committee listened to his concerns, and he has hope that education will change minds where a dress code revision would only change outfits.

"Hopefully after students and faculty get educated on issues of racism and what the Confederate flag stands for, we won’t have to change the dress code. The kids in the school system will change themselves," Outlaw said.

He said he still feels strongly that the flag needs to be out of the schools.

"I’m not backing down from removal of the Confederate flag," Outlaw said. "I’m not backing down, but I’m willing to bend, to see where this road takes us."

Mike Walker, president of the Owensboro chapter of the NAACP, spoke to the Ohio County school board in support of the Outlaws’ attempts to get the flag out of county schools.

He said that, while he’s disappointed that the committee will not recommend a ban on the Confederate flag and other offensive symbols, "if the Outlaws are happy, we’re happy for them."

Board chairwoman Marianne Pieper said she foresees the school board upholding the committee’s recommendations.

The issue has always been more about bettering the atmosphere in the schools than about banning a particular symbol, she said.

"We were most concerned about student, staff and community attitudes," Pieper said. "We want to ensure that there is always an atmosphere of respect and tolerance in our schools for every person."

Members of the committee, which met twice to review the district’s dress code policy, described their discussions as honest and open.

"It was very give and take," said committee member and middle school teacher Teresa Horton.

She’s on board with the committee’s recommendation.

"The problem was not the Confederate flag," Horton said. "I think the heart of the problem is a lack of knowledge and understanding of other people and the way they think. Part of our job as educators is to teach people about that."

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