Confederate flag memorial shirts stir tensions at Nixa High

May 12, 2013

NIXA — The student dress code at Nixa High School explicitly bans images of the Confederate battle flag.

“Clothing with racially inflammatory or verbally harassing material such as Confederate flags or swastikas shall not be worn,” the student handbook states.

Thursday night, a group of students walked into a school board meeting together, clad in black, the color of mourning. Their T-shirts bore Confederate flags across the chests with the slogan “heritage not hate,” in challenge of a policy enacted in the 1990s.

The students stood in defiance in the mourning of Colby Snider, who died May 1, 2012, of carbon monoxide poisoning. His friends had planned to wear the shirts to school on the anniversary of his death but were told the shirts violated the dress code. Some students wore the shirts anyway and were disciplined.

The Nixa Board of Education had extra chairs and sheriff’s deputies in its meeting room as residents of the school district addressed the board regarding the confederate flag ban. Colby’s mother, Jodie Snider, was the first to speak.

“This is not about hate crimes; it’s not about hate against anybody else. This is about — the shirts are about my son,” Snider said. “He really did love other people, and we do too. This was a part of his heritage, it was about Dukes of Hazzard-style stuff.”

Speech and debate teacher Jeremy Sullivan says the controversy with the shirts memorializing Snider shed light on a larger controversy of racial tensions at the school. Because the speech and debate team had an end-of-year party scheduled on the same night as the board of education meeting, Sullivan helped a pair of students record statements on video that the school board watched.

“My soul aches for what these two young people have had to endure,” Sullivan said.

Jacob Baird says he has been harassed in both junior high and high school.

“For the three years I have lived in Nixa, I have always been bullied for being black, something I can’t even control,” Baird said. “It hurt knowing every day when I woke up I had to go to school being called (racial slurs).”

Awreon Riley, who identified herself as “a mixed-race kid at a Confederate flag school,” said Colby Snider’s friends could have honored his memory in a way that didn’t conjure negative feelings from other kids.

“All I see now are Confederate flags. People say it’s to honor a loved one who has passed and the symbol is for them, but that’s not right. Honor someone in other ways, ways that don’t tear others down,” Riley said.

Sullivan encouraged the Nixa Board of Education not to change the high school policy that bans confederate flags from being displayed on clothing.

“It is imperative that our district continue to do everything within its power to provide a safe and secure learning environment for all students regardless of color,” Sullivan said.

Snider wanted Colby’s friends to be allowed to wear the T-shirts with the Confederate flag for a day.

She told the board that the flag does not represent racism and hate to the group of students who wanted to wear it.

“This culture is changing, it’s not the same as it was 20 years ago,” Snider said. “There’s hate crimes everywhere, and we need to stop that by education.”

Education begins with the faculty at Nixa Junior High and Nixa High School. Superintendent Stephen Kleinsmith says diversity training for teachers will be a continuous process across the district.

“We mean business. It’s crucial that every day when parents send their loved ones to school they are doing so to where there is physical, emotional, mental security and safety, and caring learning environments for them to do what the public pays for, and that is to educate nearly 6,000 students,” Kleinsmith said.

The school board opted to maintain the ban on Confederate flags at Nixa High School. The group of students clad in black stood together and left the meeting room in silence.

Copyright © 2013

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