Feb 22, 2013

Sutton students angry over Confederate ban
BY HEIDI RIEDNER  hriedner@yrmg.com

Some Sutton Sabres are letting out a mighty rebel yell after their high school banned any image of the Confederate flag this week.

While some students at Sutton District High School say the ban stifles their freedom of expression, the school administration insists the ban was necessary to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all students.

Amidst a backdrop of Black history month, at issue is whether the Confederate flag represents heritage or hate.

Grade 11 student Cassidy Winstone unfurled a torrent of opposition to a newly instituted ban against any display of the image of the Confederate flag or southern cross because of its negative connotation as a symbol of racism.

"To be told that showing our Southern pride using this flag is us being racist is not only an insult to us as human beings, but possibly even a bit racist in itself," says the 16-year-old Sutton resident.

"To ban this flag on account of this is basically saying that we, as mostly white humans, are the stereotype of not liking other races, which is dead wrong. We country kids are simply proud of our small-town, country ways."

The flag with a red background crossed with a blue X with white stars flown by some Confederate troops during the U.S. Civil War of 1861 to 1865 has less to do with northern states loyal to the federal government crushing a secession effort by southern slave-holding states for some students than it does a "country" culture of trucks, country music and rebelling against authority.

Just as likely to pop up in a northern York Region municipality now as it is in sweet home Alabama, the flag represents pride in country heritage, says Miss Winstone, who readily admits she herself doesn’t wear any Confederate paraphernalia.

"This is a farming community," she says. "Students have camouflage phone covers, wear cowboy boots, live on farms, go mudding and hunt. I know this is not true for all of the students, but it is true for many of us in this community."

And she is not alone.

Fellow student Wyatt Elson has a "big issue" with a ban against the Confederate flag because, for him, it "does not represent hate, it represents heritage".

"It goes against my rights that I am not allowed to wear a Confederate flag …. Other people can support what they believe in, but I can’t. I think it is wrong."

But it is the fine line that exists with the flag between those who proclaim pride in Confederate history and those who see it as a potent symbol of racism rooted in America’s era of legalized slavery that concerns school principal Dawn Laliberté.

While she says there has been no racially motivated incident or event at the school to precipitate the ban, she added the flag has been popping up more in the school’s halls, classrooms and parking lots in the past two years.

"It has come up more and more," says the former SDHS vice-principal, who took over the school’s top position in the new year after a year-and-half as Huron Heights VP.

"It’s been ramping up a little and we are seeing it more on bandanas, phones and displayed in the back windshields of pick-up trucks."

It became an issue of concern, she added, after further research by the school’s administration revealed the emblem of Southern pride was also used as a symbol of racism, being incorporated by white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis.

Since the start of a second semester involves a reiteration for students of safe schools policy and expectations anyway, Ms Laliberté says the opportunity was used to raise the issue of the flag.

Discussions centered on counselling and education, she adds.

"Our first step is always to educate. We are only dealing with a handful of students who view it as a white pride kind of thing, so we thought now is the time to get the message out."

She, as well as the school’s vice principals, discussed the ban with students in their homerooms this week, explaining the full range of meanings and implications behind the flag.

"We asked people to be considerate and mindful of what the flag could mean and to understand we didn’t want to see it in the school," she says. "Our primary goal is to ensure all students feel safe, welcome and included."

That means the southern cross is outlawed on school property, whether in students’ cars, on clothing or elsewhere.

If someone breaks the ban, the school will deal with the situation on an individual basis since there are no formal penalties.

"If it is a recurring thing, where a student flaunts the ban out of spite, then that becomes a different issue," adds Ms Laliberté.

Except for the image of the Nazi symbol of the swastika, no other specific ban exists at the school in addition to an all-encompassing board policy focused on an inclusive school community free of all forms of harassment and prejudice.

Miss Winstone says while she can understand where the school administration is coming from, she still doesn’t agree with the ban.

"They are saying we can’t express ourselves, but what’s different about this flag than any other flag?" she asks, adding many wars were fought and many people persecuted under the colours of a whole host of flags at some point in history that aren’t banned.

© Copyright Metroland 2013

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