School’s panel votes to ban Confederate wear

By Jessie-Lynne Kerr, Times-Union staff writer

The School Advisory Council at a Jacksonville middle school named for a famous Confederate general and educator has banned students, faculty and staff from wearing clothing decorated with the rebel flag.

The council, composed of parents, teachers and community leaders at Kirby-Smith Middle School in Springfield voted 8-1 at a special meeting this week to impose the ban, said Principal Elnora Atkins.

In previous years, Atkins said, some students wore clothing decorated with the Stars and Bars, the Confederate battle flag, but it did not create any problems.

For some reason, a larger number of students started to wear the clothing right after the Christmas break, she said.

"Apparently comments were made by both black and white students and some of them went to a guidance counselor saying the two factions were planning to fight one another after school," Atkins said. "The guidance counselor came to me and said we had a problem."

At the SAC meeting, Atkins said some heated words were exchanged but everyone was allowed to express an opinion, including non-committee members who say Confederate symbols are part of their Southern heritage.

"Some parents said they were opposed to the ban and I think one of them said something about filing a lawsuit," Atkins said. After everyone had a chance to speak, she said the SAC discussed the issue and then voted for the ban.

Ironically, the school is named for a famous Confederate general, Edmund Kirby-Smith, whose statue represents Florida in the U.S. Capitol.

Born in St. Augustine, the future general graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He led troops in the first Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), in the Kentucky campaign and as commander of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department. He was the last Southern general to surrender a major force after the war ended in 1865.After the war he was president of the Western Military Academy in Nashville, Tenn., chancellor of the University of Nashville, and then taught mathematics at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., until he died on March 28, 1893.

Kirby-Smith, which opened in 1924, has an equal number of white and black students, said Atkins, who has been the principal for 12 years. She said the school has had no racial troubles during that time.

When Kirby-Smith became a dedicated math, science and technology magnet school five years ago, the students voted to change the school’s nickname from the Rebels to the Comets. The Challenger space center is located on the school’s campus.

Atkins said students are not taught about their school’s namesake.

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