Parent banned from Flat Rock M.S. in aftermath of T-shirt controversy
By: John Thompson
Jacque Reid just wants to make sure her children are safe, and she’s not sure that can happen at Flat Rock Middle School.
Reid’s daughter was involved in the T-shirt flap that caused a temporary ban of the Confederate Flag emblem at the school. This week, Reid, who lives in Tyrone, revealed new information about the incident that has caused the Fayette County School System to come under intense scrutiny for its handling of the situation.
“It wasn’t the students that started this problem, it was a history teacher,” Reid explained.
The actual situation started more than a year ago, when Reid’s daughter, Victoria, wore a Dixie Outfitters T-shirt with a big Confederate flag on the front. The shirt also had a statement that said, “If this offends you, you need a history lesson.”
Reid said the school’s principal, Oatha Mann, told her Dixie Outfitters shirts were fine, but the flag was just too big. Reid said she didn’t want to make any trouble at the school, so she kept her daughter from wearing the shirt to school.
But on Oct. 2, Victoria came home and told her mom that another student was wearing the exact same shirt and nobody had said anything about it.
“I thought maybe they had changed their minds, so I let her wear the shirt to school on Tuesday,” Reid said.
But when Victoria wore the shirt to school, she was immediately sent to in-school suspension.
“There was no racial tension until the history teacher told Victoria that she was ignorant and the flag stood for slavery,” said Reid.
After the history teacher’s remarks, Victoria was then taunted and several students wore Dixie Outfitters shirts to school Wednesday because they didn’t like how Victoria was treated. The edict then came down that no Confederate flags on T-shirts would be allowed at the school for a temporary time, and the tensions started to escalate.
Reid said her daughter was the subject of several threats and she kept her and her sister home from Flat Rock for five days because she feared for their safety.
Reid received a letter from Principal Mann on Oct. 5 notifying her that she had been permanently banned from the property.
“On Oct. 5, 2006, you were repeatedly informed by Mrs. Blair to return to the front office while the administration of Flat Rock Middle School conducted a meeting with our eighth grade students. The administration was conducting a meeting to address possible racial tensions. Your presence in the commons area was viewed as a catalyst for the problems that the administration was trying to handle,” wrote Mann.
Mann further stated that Reid’s presence on the campus would result in action from the Sheriff’s Department.
“I was told the reason I was banned was because I was handing out Confederate T-shirts on school property. I don’t have enough money to hand out spit,” she said.
On Oct. 6, a meeting was held at the LaFayette Educational Center with the Reids, along with Mann, teachers from Flat Rock and Assistant Superintendent of Operations Sam Sweat. During the meeting, Mann said he would lift the ban, but only allow Reid to be present in the front office complex at the school. The Reids also received another offer.
“We were also told that we could transfer our kids to Rising Starr Middle, which is the top middle school in the county,” Reid said.
Reid is still weighing her options, but also said she was told by Mann the days she kept her girls home from Flat Rock would be counted as unexcused absences and further days out could jeopardize her daughter’s chance at getting a driver’s license.
Her husband got involved and called the superintendent’s office and said the days should be excused because of the threats against his child. Reid said she received a voice-mail message last week from Mann saying the days would be excused.
Throughout the nearly two-week ordeal, Reid has been amazed to see what she called the double standards at the school. On the day after the edict came down, the student who originally wore the flag shirt wore it again, but was never sent to in-school suspension, she said.
“They never took down the names of students who threatened my daughter,” she said.
She also said that students got along at the school until the history teacher’s comments incited some of the students.
“My daughters have plenty of black friends. There was no racial problem before this,” she added.
One of the keen observers during the situation has been Scott Gilbert. Gilbert is commander of the McLaws Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Fayette County. Gilbert said his group met with Superintendent John DeCotis and said his group agrees with the temporary ban of the flag on shirts at the school. He added his group is working on a plan to provide more education opportunities about the flag.
“We’re trying to reach out to the parents. We just want to make sure the flag is treated respectfully, and we shouldn’t have these problems,” Gilbert added.
From the school administration’s perspective, Assistant Superintendent Sam Sweat said the reason the person involved was banned was because she didn’t check into the front office when she first arrived on campus and didn’t stay in the front office when instructed.
“The administration did not want the person involved to be in the commons area because she was the mother of the person who had worn the shirt,” Sweat said.
Officials at Flat Rock did look into the rumors of her distributing shirts, but could not confirm those allegations, Sweat said.
He also confirmed the system did offer to let her students transfer to another middle school, which he said is an unusual move by the school system.
“It’s something we normally don’t do, but we presented that option for the parents because of their safety concerns,” he added.
Sweat also said Flat Rock’s administration and the school system are looking at the possible threats against Reid’s daughter.
“A lot of this is difficult to confirm, but we’re following up on everything,” Sweat said.
He also dismissed the allegations that the school system is practicing reverse discrimination by allowing minorities to wear shirts depicting Malcolm X and FUBU.
“I told Mr. Mann that if those shirts caused educational disruptions, he would have to deal with those in the same way.”
One of the interesting points about the incident that Sweat revealed was the role of MySpace.com during the whole controversy.
“We understand that a lot of students were talking about this on Tuesday night before the students wore the shirts on Wednesday. It’s so important for parents to know what their kids are doing on the Internet that could lead to an educational disruption,” he said.
Sweat said it’s entirely possible that the administration could not have noticed the student wearing the shirt on Monday, but dealt with the situation Tuesday when it was brought to their attention by a teacher.
“The person involved had a problem with this shirt last year, so Mr. Mann dealt with it in a consistent basis.”
The school system wants to make sure that every student is safe, particularly in light of recent school shootings, Sweat said.
“It’s imperative that parents know the rules when they go on school property,” Sweat added.
In deciding to temporarily suspend the Confederate battle flag on clothing, Sweat said the school system’s primary emphasis is school safety.
“We want every student at that school to feel safe.”
Copyright 2006 – Fayette Publishing, Inc
On The Web: http://www.thecitizen.com/node/11144