HAWTHORNE, FL  — The Southern Legal Resource Center is guiding the families of students at Hawthorne Middle and High Schools who have found themselves caught up in a sudden and apparently arbitrary ban on Confederate-themed clothing.
In mid-September, parents and guardians of several middle and high school students in Hawthorne, a small town east of Gainesville in Alachua County, contacted the SLRC after the students had been sent home for wearing t-shirts with designs that incorporated the Confederate battle flag.  The incidents took place at the beginning of the new school year in August and parents said there had been no prior warning of a ban on Confederate clothing.  Furthermore, they said, such clothing has been worn at the school without incident for many years.
At first, according to parents, Hawthorne Middle/High School Principal Veita Jackson-Carter specifically (although verbally) banned Confederate symbols by name.  Later, they said, she amended her position, indicating that she would abide by the results of a written poll that was to be conducted among both students and parents.  She then indicated she would delay further action until after a visit to the school on by Southern activist and former NAACP officer H.K. Edgerton.
However, ballots were handed to the students on September 8 and parents’ copies were asked to be returned by September 14, the actual date of Edgerton’s visit.  Moreover, copies of the survey obtained by the SLRC show no mention of the Confederate flag or any other specific content.  The poll asks respondents to rate, in general terms, the school’s new dress code and several other innovations.  The dress code, also obtained by the SLRC, likewise makes no mention of Confederate symbols.
Mrs. Joann Justice, grandmother of two of the affected students, said she received a voice mail message from Ms. Jackson-Carter on September 17, stating that the principal had set aside the written ballots and instead conducted her own “informal poll” among students and faculty as to what they thought about the Confederate flag.  The results of this survey, she said in her message, had led her to stand by her original decision to ban Confederate symbols.  She did not, according to Mrs. Justice, say how she had conducted her survey or what the actual results were.  The principal also stated she had taken a videotape of Edgerton’s lecture to the Alachua County Board of Education for review by Superintendent Daniel Boyd, but did not say what Boyd’s reaction had been.  When Mrs. Justice questioned Ms. Jackson-Carter on these points in a follow-up phone conversation, she said the principal “became very irate” and terminated the call.
The SLRC helped Mrs. Justice draft a letter to Superintendent Boyd in which she related her dealings with Ms. Jackson-Carter and asked for clarification of the same points.  She hand delivered the letter to Boyd’s office on September 24 but to date has received no response, she said.
“I just appreciate so much the advice we are getting from the SLRC, and we also appreciate all the support and offers of help we are getting” Mrs. Justice said.  “We are very confident about the way things are going forward.”
“We have developed a game plan for the Hawthorne situation and we are following it,” said SLRC Executive Director Roger McCredie.  “At this point, that involves playing everything pretty close to our vest.  We know that feelings are running high in this case, but we would urge folks at this point, unless they are citizens of Alachua County themselves,  to refrain from contacting the principal or other school officials.
“We will post new developments as they occur, and meanwhile anybody who would like to be brought up to date is welcome to contact the SLRC and we will be glad to fill them in, to the extent that we can do so without compromising our agenda.”