June 09,2004
Sandy Wall
Sun Journal Staff

BAYBORO — A ban on students wearing clothing with the Confederate flag on it likely will stand after Pamlico County school leaders approved an amended dress code Monday night.

The revised policy, which was drawn up by the school board’s attorneys, includes new language that, among other things, gives school officials the power to prohibit students from wearing clothing that "is plainly degrading or hostile" to the culture or race of others.

And while the new policy states clothing that constitutes a protected expression of free speech is not a violation, it further states that attire can be banned if "it has caused, or is likely to cause," a serious interference or disruption at school.

"I think it deals with the things you’re most concerned about," attorney Brian Shaw told the board as he explained the revised rules.

The board’s vote to adopt the revisions was 5-0, with members Paula Hardison and James Mason absent. The decision came about a month after a handful of students from Pamlico County High School asked the board to rescind their school’s ban on clothing that contains the Confederate flag, arguing it strips them of their Southern heritage and compromises their First Amendment rights.

At the May 3 meeting, the students told board members that they don’t believe the clothing creates any conflicts, and they presented the panel with a petition urging it to allow the clothing.

The school’s ban on clothing with the Confederate flag was put in place early in the school year. Principal Tom Frazier has said the decision was made after some students wearing flag-clothing items began showing them off, which created tension at the school.

Frazier also has said he exercised that power to preserve good relations among his school’s 690-member student body, which is about two-thirds white and about one-third black.

"It was getting ready to heat up, so we had to address it," Frazier said in an interview last month. "We just don’t want to cause a disruption, a heated situation."

The students argued the flag-clothing was not being used provocatively or in a way designed to create any disturbances. Instead, they say it was being used to show pride in Southern heritage.

At its May meeting, the school board, after seeking advice from its attorney in a closed session, agreed to have the attorney review the system’s dress code and make recommendations for possible changes.

On Monday night, Shaw told the board the suggested changes bring Pamlico’s policy more in line with court precedents, which he said allow school officials to prohibit speech that would tend to create disruptions.

System officials on Monday shied away from addressing the Confederate flag issue directly, but signaled that the new code would enable them to keep the ban on such clothing in effect.

"I hope so," Frazier said at the meeting. "It’s been my experience to see it lead to tension, and to see tensions lead to disruption."

Superintendent Julia Mobley also said that any decision at the high school would be extended to the middle school.

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