T-shirt controversy Board adopts ‘free speech’ clothing policy
Camden News
Wednesday, August 13, 2003

A controversy about a policy that banned students from wearing clothing bearing the Confederate battle flag has prompted the Camden Fairview School Board to adopt a new policy regarding the wearing of clothing with symbols.

The new policy, adopted at Tuesday night’s board meeting, states, in part, "The fact that some ‘free speech’ clothing and symbols might be offen sive to some students or adult faculty, administrators or other district employees, is not in and of itself a suf ficient reason to restrict the wearing of such clothing or the display of such symbols."

However, the policy states, "On the other hand, it may not be required that the clothing, logo or symbol in question actually precipitate violent or tumultuous reaction from students or others as a condition precedent to restricting the wearing of the clothing or the display of the logos or symbols.

Instead, when it is clear to the administration acting in good faith that a clear and present danger exists that a disruption to the learning environment is likely to occur, the administration is hereby authorized to act to restrict the wearing or display of the clothes, logos, or symbols deemed to be disruptive."

Allen Roberts, the district’s legal advisor who prepared the policy, said it is not idea specific so it will work for all freedom of speech questions.

Roberts recommended the current stance of the school be relaxed in regard to the shirts with the Confederate battle flag.

Roberts said during the board meeting that the issue started when a middle school faculty member asked a student about a shirt the student was wearing. He said the student referred to the teacher, who is black, in a racial manner. Middle school students were then told not to wear shirts with the Confederate flag logo.

Superintendent Jerry Guess subsequently announced in the May school board meeting that students who wore clothing with the Confederate flag would have to either wear the shirts inside out, have their parents bring them another shirt or they would be sent home.

Roberts said Tuesday night that, during the summer, committees including the school’s Biracial Committee, a parents’ group and a student group tried to work out a compromise.

The students group came to an agreement that the issue was never a student problem, but was an adult problem, Roberts said. The student group recommended that the ban on T-shirts be relaxed and that the principal of each building be responsible for determining whether a shirt should not be worn to school.

The Biracial Committee approved the students’ recommendation and submitted it to the board. "If we allow the children to decide then we ought to go home," school board member Rev. Eddie Moore said. He said the it is the board’s responsibility to be adults.

"If the decision (about banning the Confederate battle flag symbol) is changed, then you know what is going to happen," Moore said. "We have more black people (at the meeting) than we have seen in a long time. You know what they are here for," Moore said. "The pressure is going to come from the other side of town if you change your decision," Moore said. "I thought you made a sound decision looking at the situation."

Board member Tommy Raines said the courts have already ruled that wearing the T-shirts with the Confederate battle flag is a protected right of speech. Raines said it will hurt the school to ban the Tshirts because he feels it would be a case the school would lose in court.

But, Moore said, "If we allow this (the wearing of the shirts) to happen we know it is going to be disruptive. Let’s go back to when this Constitution was written. I am a man of God and I have a problem with the law," he said. "The U.S.

Constitution was not written for black folk," Moore said. "If you are talking about playing on a level playing field it is not there in the Constitution," Moore said. There is a lot of it I do not agree with (in the Constitution). I am a citizen of the United States. I have to live here,"

Moore said. "We cannot figure what we do with this policy is fair. It never will be fair. We are going to create a bigger problem by doing this."

The board took no official action on the students’ recommendation.

Board member Phil Foster called for a vote on the policy prepared by Roberts and Moore was the only board member who voted against adopting the policy.

Members of the audience objected because they were not able to speak before the board voted on the issue.

Reginald Cooper, board president, said the only time the audience can address the board is during the communication part of the meeting which had already past.

Guess issued a statement about the issue this morning, "As you know the school board adopted a policy specifically dealing with ‘free speech’ T-shirts and other attire. The standard of acceptability will be the tendency of any item to cause disruption. The essence of this policy is to vest initial discretion in building principals to make this decision. Our intention is to gradually get away from banning broad general types or lines of clothing or particular logos, and instead put the emphasis on disruptive nature of each item of clothing or display.

"As to the ‘rebel flag’ T-shirts in particular, I urge parents and children to please use good judgment and discretion about what they wear. Remember that we have now publicly called attention to the fact that these shirts can be offensive to blacks, thereby pointing out to many people that they should be offended by something they had never before noticed. This can only serve to temporarily increase the tendency of these items to attract attention.

"I am meeting today and tomorrow with the staffs of the high school and middle school to formulate standards and identify which particular items that will be permitted. We will do this in concert with students and parents who have been active in trying to find a compromise to the existing controversy. I strongly recommend that anyone planning to wear clothing or items that you know have been prohibited in the past to communicate with the building principal’s office before sending your child to school wearing it. There will be a person identified in each school building to help you. Please take advantage of this to minimize any difficulty.

"The principal mission of Camden Fairview School District is the education of our students. While I promise you to try and fulfill that mission while fully respecting the rights of all our parents and students, I won’t be detracted from the educational obligation. It is very important to get the school year off to a positive beginning. It’s a long year and we will have ample time to work our way through all dress code issues and problems. I personally ask every parent and student to please help me get off to a smooth start by avoiding anything you know or suspect to be controversial."

In other business during Tuesday night’s meeting the school board approved $47,100 to be put in the athletic budget, which was the same as last year, according to Fred Lilly, athletic director, who estimated the district would earn $77,200 on gate sales, which is included in the total $124,300 budget.

The board approved a band budget of $45,000 for the upcoming year. Jeff Kee, the district’s band director, said 175 students applied to be in sixth grade band.

He estimated that 600 students would participate this year in band programs throughout the district.

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