Rebel Flag Draws Fire     
Posted 2009-09-19
Confederate Symbol Gets Two Suspended At BHS

By Jeff Mellott

BROADWAY – Two Broadway High School students were suspended Thursday afternoon after they defied school officials who repeatedly asked them not to display the Confederate battle flag on their pickup trucks on school property.

More suspensions followed Friday, said Rockingham County Schools Superintendent Carolyn Fenn.

Fenn said the suspensions, in general, involved students who heatedly talked about the issue. She characterized the number of disciplinary actions as "minimal."

Broadway High School Principal Stephen Leaman suspended Paul Lantz, 16, of Rockingham County, and one other student during the middle of the day Thursday and for all day Friday.

Lantz, however, claimed that other students were displaying flags other than the U.S. flag.

"We’re not trying to harm no one," he said on Friday. "We were just flying them because of heritage. It’s freedom of speech."

Equal Treatment

Upon coming onto Broadway High School grounds on Wednesday, school officials told Lantz and other students to take down their flags.

They obeyed the request, but the next morning he and others repeated their display when they arrived at school.

School officials once again told them to remove the flags and they obeyed. But later in the day, Lantz and at least one other student displayed the flags.

Lantz said he put the flag back up because school officials would not tell him why he and his friends could not display their flags while others could do so.

"I told them that, until they could answer my questions, we were going to keep doing what we were doing," Lantz said on Friday.

Lantz said they were told their suspensions were for being disrespectful to the school.

Leaman would not get into the specifics of why the students were suspended. He called the suspensions and the display of the Confederate flags separate issues.

 "We do have some students who are passionate about their beliefs involving the Confederate flags," he said. "In recent days they have elected to do some displays that have caused problems for the safe environment of our school in the past."

The principal said the activity continued Friday.

The school handbook on conduct does not specifically address the Confederate flag.

The school works with students to respect each other, Leaman said.

"We are asking students to not overtly make displays that are going to inflame others’ beliefs," he said.

Asked if students wearing clothing at the school with the Confederate flag on it would be suspended, Leaman said, "no."

Reaction

Flags and school suspensions, real and imagined, was a popular subject on the Internet.

Some concerned parents went to the school and talked to officials, who also met with students.

"It’s a continuous teaching moment," said Fenn of learning about beliefs of others.

Paul Lantz’s father, Darrin, raised concerns about his son’s rights.

"My son has every right to fly the Confederate flag. We have lived here all our lives. It’s part of our heritage," he said.

Virginia was part of the Confederacy during the Civil War and the Shenandoah Valley was a battleground in the conflict.

"[People] are trying to make it into a hate thing and there’s no hate involved," the elder Lantz said.

Lantz’s parents had urged their son not to display the flag when he went to school on Thursday. The flag was not visible when he left home, they said, but it waved from his truck by the time he arrived at school.

After receiving the suspension, Paul Lantz said Friday that the message he received from school officials was clear.

"They are more or less telling us that we are not allowed to show our heritage and that is not going over too good," he said.

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