Students, adults challenge school’s position on symbols
By REN…E JEAN\Daily Journal Assistant Managing Editor
Confederate flags waved in a cold morning breeze as students were dropped off at the Farmington High School today.
A group of five to seven students and adults held up the large red and blue flags along with posters printed with things as “Heritage not Hate” in hand-drawn letters.
Amber Archambo was among students participating in the demonstration, which was located directly across from the Farmington High School on the sidewalk in front of the Farmington Civic Center.
She said two students have been kicked out of school so far for wearing clothing with Confederate symbols, and she called it a violation of rights. “We aren’t going to stand for it,” she said.
One of the students kicked out was her brother Bryce Archambo, who has filed a civil rights suit against the district after he was suspended for wearing Confederate symbols to school.
The latest student kicked out was identified by members of the group as Bob Scaggs.
“I got kicked out yesterday,” Scaggs said.
However, the Farmington School District’s attorney disputed that account. He said Scaggs was not kicked out just for wearing a T-shirt with the Confederate emblem, but for disobeying the instruction of school district officials.
According to Mickes, Scaggs was distributing without permission a flyer about an event that would bring in a Confederate speaker. Mickes said if the student had asked permission he could have distributed the flyer and posted it on the school’s bulletin board provided for such purposes.
When school district officials noticed the T-shirt they asked him to turn it inside out, which he intially did. But when the administrators turned around, he reversed the shirt again and refused to wear it any other way.
Mickes said officials have the right to enforce the rules, and to suspend students who refuse to obey them.
He also explained these events are happening against the backdrop of an investigation by the Office of Civil Rights and Department of Education for racial harrassment of students by other students.
The investigation was opened nine months ago over some raical remarks made at a basketball tournament. Mickes said the tournament was not held at Farmington. He said the office paid particular attention to a Confederate flag that was hanging up at the time.
“We respect the rights of the students to picket in front of the school,” Mickes said. “We hope they respect our rights to maintain a safe school environement for all students.”
He said initial statements by Bryce Archambo did not mention heritage, but were offensive to other students. He would not relate the exact statement at this time.
Bryce Archambo filed his civil rights suit against the Farmington School District in the Eastern District Court of St. Louis in late 2006. According to the complaint, he wore a baseball cap to school Sept. 27 that featured an emblem of the Confederate States of America and the words “C.S.A., Rebel Pride, 1861.”
The cap was taken and Bryce was told he could not wear it or anything else depicting the Confederate States because it conveys a message of racism.
The following day, Bryce wore a T-shirt and belt buckle that depicted the Confederate States of America and had the words “Dixie Classics.” He was then suspended from school.
His parents Marc and Tamra Archambo withdrew him from the district, citing censorship.
An attorney for the family, Bob Herman of St. Louis, has said the district’s policy is unconstitutional because it is “overbroad, subjective, applied on an ad hoc basis and is viewpoint discriminatory.”
“The nature of schools gives them the right to control subject matter, context and rhetoric,” he said. “But they still don’t give schools the rights to determine viewpoint. There are people who don’t think the Confederate flag automatically is racist.”
Mickes has said he believes the school’s decision will be upheld. Racism is a disruptive element and there is evidence of a “reasonable possibility of disruption” when someone wears Confederate emblems.
Mickes said Bryce’s initial statement also provided a reasonable possibility of disruption. He would not provide details of the statement, but said the boy’s reasons for wearing the Confederate insignia were not permissible.
“To use a hackneyed expression, the First Amendment doesn’t protect you if you yell ‘fire’ in a theater,” Mickes said. “We were never informed until after he went to the media that he was celebrating his Southern heritage. That is not what he told administrators.”
The school district contends that messages featuring the Confederacy are perceived by some students as threatening or intimidating. Mickes said Bryce was asked to turn his shirt inside out for the remainder of the day and not to wear it again.
Bryce refused, he said.
“If students were wearing Malcolm X shirts, I suspect this student might have complained that he felt intimidated,” Mickes said. “We want our district to be a place where every child – regardless of their ethnicity, race or gender – can go to school and get a good education in an environment that is not threatening or intimidating to them.”
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