Hollywood students clash on whether Confederate-themed clothing should be banned

By Douane D. James
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted January 26 2007

A petition drive to get Confederate-themed clothing banned from school grounds has exposed a rift at Hollywood Hills High. The episode may lead the Broward School Board to examine whether its student conduct code should address the Confederate flag.

Sophomore Ilana Hostyk started a petition this week at Hollywood Hills in hopes of pressing officials to ban the symbol, considered a show of Rebel pride by some and a reminder of Southern race-based prejudice by others.

The petition garnered as many as 300 signatures but added to tension at Hollywood Hills after students who support wearing the flag on shirts, belt-buckles or other garments started a counter petition.

"My whole goal is to ban the Confederate flag from Broward schools," said Hostyk, 15. "People are really offended by it."

Hostyk, who is Jewish, said student display of the flag on campus has caused tension between white, black and Jewish students. About 2,200 students are enrolled at Hollywood Hills. About 41 percent are white, 20 percent black and 35 percent Hispanic, according to district records.

Some students have confronted each other on campus this week over the flag since the petition was circulated, but the incidents have not been violent, school district spokesman Keith Bromery said. Principal Joyce Ferguson stopped the petitioning Tuesday on grounds it was done without proper permission, he said.

School Board member Eleanor Sobel, who represents the Hollywood area, said she was surprised to learn of the stir over the flag. Sobel said she would prefer that students not wear or display the flag.

The school has no plans to modify its dress code policy, which does not prohibit Confederate-themed clothing, but does plan to schedule an open forum where students can discuss differences with each other and diversity experts, district officials said.

Sobel said she would push for the School Board to discuss the issue at a future meeting.

"I’m satisfied with the way the principal is handling it," Sobel said. "But looking at this long-term, I think the policy should be clarified

[when] there’s potential for conflict."

The school district does not address the Confederate flag specifically in its code of conduct, which states that students may not wear clothing that "supports discrimination."

Sobel said she learned from a School Board attorney that a specific ban of the flag would not hold up to a court challenge unless it could be proven that it causes a widespread disruption.

"There’s a difference between dissatisfied and disruption," she said.

Doug Dawson, the Florida division commander for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said students should retain the right to display the flag as part of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

"To limit someone from wearing a symbol of their heritage or viewpoint is constitutionally wrong," Dawson said. "If someone is using a Confederate symbol to provoke hate, then they’re out of line."

Last year, Seminole Ridge High in rural Palm Beach County banned the Confederate flag, along with any "shirts with writing, pictures, and/or divisive images." School leaders cited fears and rumors of clashes between white and black students as the reason for the sweeping clothing restriction, considered more legally sound because of its broadness.

Hostyk said she became interested in the Confederate flag last year. She said she found it curious that it was allowed on campus. After she began circulating the petition, she quickly learned that many students wanted to sign.

"I started it, but it’s taken on a life of its own," she said

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