Published: May 16, 2004

LARGO – Offensive to some and a source of pride for others, the display of the Confederate battle flag at Pinellas County schools has been a controversial issue this year among students and administrators.

The January suspension of a Tarpon Springs High School student who protested the flag’s presence and prevalence on campus sparked peaceful, organized debate among high school students countywide, and passionate dialogue among Pinellas County School Board members.

And the board wants the open discussions to continue.

After considering a ban on the flag, the board unanimously agreed Wednesday to continue allowing any symbol to be displayed in schools, if it does not “create an environmental climate that could be a distraction from learning and highest student achievement.”

The language was part of a slight change to the current code, further specifying whether a symbol can be prohibited on a campus.

Principals will be the final decision-makers on whether clothing or symbols are a distraction at a particular school, the same policy in place today.

“Involving students in an all-out campaign to educate them on both sides of issues is the best way to go,” board member Lee Benjamin said.

“I fully understand where the black students would have problems with the flag, probably from stories they’ve heard from their parents.

“Thirty-five years ago, I would have said any sign, flag, insignia – ban it. Today, I think we have progressed, not perfectly but progress.”

Mary Brown was the board member most outspoken against “potentially offensive and divisive symbols.”

“In my mind the only flag that needs to be displayed is the American flag,” she said.

But Brown said she softened her stance in an effort to set clearer guidelines for principals and continue the work of multicultural committees in each school.

The committees work with students to resolve tolerance- related issues and conflicts.

“How a principal feels about a particular issue affects decisions in a school, and we need to work to eliminate that,” Brown said. “It’s a training issue

[for principals], and they needed a more consistent way from us to address conflicts.

“This language [in the code] is a good, small step.”

An official vote on the district’s code of conduct, which includes all rules pertaining to student behavior, is expected May 25. At the suggestion of board member Nancy Bostock, the code is expected to include a brief summary of the laws regarding a student’s constitutional rights to display symbols in schools.

If you have comments on the issue above, we urge you to contact the people below:
Dennis Duda, Principal, Tarpon Springs High School
Dr. J. Howard Hinesley, Superintendent, Pinellas County School Board
All school board members can be e-mailed at this address:
Chairman – Jane Gallucci
Vice Chairman – Carol J. Cook
Mary Russell
Nancy Bostock
Linda Lerner
Mary Brown
Lee Benjamin