By ALICIA PETSKA
The News Virginian
Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Two months after a dress code flap with one student grew into a debate over how to interpret Confederate history, Waynesboro High School seems to be easing its stance on students wearing the Confederate flag to school.

Educators say there has been no change in the school’s position on the controversial clothing, although at least one Waynesboro family has seen a difference in how staff are handling it.

At the start of this school year, 16-year-old Steven McDonaldson was twice ejected from class for wearing T-shirts bearing the Rebel flag. Today, his mother says the high school junior no longer has any problems.

“He’s continued wearing them to school and hasn’t been sent out of any more classes,” said Lisa Benson, who supported her son’s determination to continue wearing the flag over the school’s objections.

“All of the kids really supported Steven,” Benson said, noting that many wore flag shirts to school immediately following the controversy as a sign of unity. “And now he’s allowed to wear them. Nobody said anything else about it, so I assume it’s settled.”

At the time of the incident, Benson – who along with her son maintained the flag was a symbol of their Southern heritage, not of hatred and racism as some perceive it – referred to the school’s decision as “just stupidity.”

Officials said the flag, which does inspire divided feelings even here in the South, fell under a dress code provision that bars any clothes that “reflect adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, national origin, or ancestry.”

Principal Sue Wright said that’s still the school’s feeling, but officials won’t impose a ban as long as the classrooms remain undisturbed.

“We really just watch when it interrupts instruction,” she said. “…

[Recently] it hasn’t really been a disruption, and everyone’s really just moved on.”

In 2001, a federal court of appeals ruled that wearing an image of the flag fell under First Amendment protection, and schools couldn’t prohibit it unless it was causing a disturbance – a decision that was hailed by pro-Confederate factions.

Wright said it was her responsibility to ensure every student at Waynesboro High had a healthy learning environment. At the same time, she also wanted to encourage her teenage charges to express themselves.

“It’s really about respecting each other,” she said.

“I always tell folks to make statements people can listen to you with. 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds have a lot to say, and I think it’s important we as adults listen to them rather than try to push our own thoughts onto them.”

© 2006 Media General

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