Student challenges N. Marion’s dress code
BY CHRISTOPHER CURRY
OCALA – The First Amendment debate over students wearing clothing that displays the Confederate battle flag continues at North Marion High School.
Monday, sophomore April Brenay, 15, began to circulate a petition among students urging the school do away with the dress code policy banning clothing with the Confederate flag.
Wednesday, Brenay wore a Dixie Outfitters brand shirt with a Confederate flag on the back and the message: "If this flag offends you, you need a history lesson."
Brenay said school officials intercepted her in the courtyard before school and took her to the disciplinary office. She said she was there for more than four hours until her mother picked her up.
Marion County School District spokesman Kevin Christian confirmed one North Marion student was sent to the office for wearing clothing with the Confederate flag on it.
"It’s not accepted by the principal and the administration, and the students know that," he said.
The student was kept in the office after declining to turn the clothing inside out before returning to class, Christian said.
The flag is addressed as No. 10 in the North Marion High dress code: "The wearing of or displaying of Confederate (rebel) flags is prohibited."
In 2003, when another student protested the ban, a School District official said individual schools can ban symbols considered disruptive or offensive.
To some, the flag is a symbol of Southern heritage. For others, it is a reminder of slavery and has racist overtones.
Brenay said she believes it is a piece of her Southern heritage and she should be allowed to display it, just as other students may wear clothing with the flag of the countries to which they trace their heritage.
Her mother, Karen Brenay, agrees. "If you are from the South, it is your heritage," she said. "It is not a black/white issue with me. It is censorship."
In Kentucky, there have been court decisions saying a public school student has a right under the First Amendment to wear clothing with the Confederate flag on it. In 2001, a federal appeals court ruled in the case of Castorina v. Madison County Schools that two students should have been allowed to wear Hank Williams Jr. concert shirts with the Confederate flag on them.
In another case, Jacqueline Duty v. Russell Independent School District, the school district settled out of court and paid damages to a woman who was not allowed to wear a dress designed to look like a Confederate flag to the high school prom, said Roger McCredie, executive director of the Southern Legal Resource Center.
McCredie’s organization, which advocates to defend the right to express Confederate heritage, was part of the legal team for both plaintiffs.
"Absent of any proof of disruption in the school, the students cannot be banned from wearing depictions of the Confederate flag," McCredie said. "That is the law of the land in the Sixth Circuit."