April 1, 2006

(BENTON, Ky.) — Flags bearing stars and bars are a common sight during this western Kentucky town’s Tater Day festivities.

But the Confederate flag — and any other flag for that matter — will no longer be welcome in the Marshall County High School parking lot when students drive to school and hold parades during the festivities.

Principal Trent Lovett cited student safety in instituting the ban this year, saying that parade participants often hold up traffic at the school. Lovett also said a recent incident in which a parading student made an inappropriate comment to an African-American man assured him he was making the right decision.

"I don’t have a problem with the (confederate) flag. I don’t have a problem with any show of patriotism. That is not what this is about," Lovett said.

Senior Raeanne McKendree, 18, said she supports the rule and thinks most other students at the school agree with it.

"You don’t have freedom of speech at school," she said. "The school should be able to prevent it, just like they tell us not to wear certain T-shirts or say certain words."

McKendree said she objects to students flying Confederate flags because it hurts the school’s image.

"Whether they think it has a racist meaning or not, that’s what people think when they see Marshall County students waving Confederate flags. They think Marshall County High School — racists," she said.

Some former Marshall County students voiced opposition to the ban.

"It means my heritage," said Brandon Treas, 17, who said he graduated from the school in December. "That flag says everything about me."

Others driving around Benton displaying Confederate flags also said the ban was misguided.

"It’s a tradition for Tater Day," said Zach Edwards, 20, referring to the town’s festival that includes a parade, carnival and beauty pageant.

Marshall County High School is one of several schools across the country where officials have established policies against flags.

A South Carolina student this week filed a lawsuit against her school district, objecting to a policy that barred students from wearing the Confederate flag at school. The lawsuit follows a settlement that was reached in Kentucky between a school district and a student who was kept out of her school’s prom after showing up in a dress with a confederate flag design.

In Arizona, a school superintendent banned students from wearing flags of any kind in any form after a group of Hispanic students at the school took down the American flag from a pole, raised the Mexican flag, then watched as white students took it down and burned it.

In Colorado, dozens of high school students protested a temporary ban on flags amid racial tensions following immigration rallies. One school official said the symbols were being used as "misguided patriotism."

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.

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