Students suspended over Confederate flag T-shirts

By CRYSTAL STREUBER, Gazette staff writer

Four Beaufort High School students were suspended Monday for what they say is honoring their heritage, but what school officials call offensive and distracting.

The students have been donning T-shirts featuring the Confederate flag. Beaufort High Principal Bill Evans said the emblem is offensive and gave students an ultimatum Friday: Stop wearing the shirts, or face suspension.

"None of us are racist," said Shannon Bonville, a 10th-grader who was suspended Monday. "We’re all trying to prove to the administration we should be able to wear something to prove our heritage."

Wearing the shirts, which feature everything from baby chickens as "Dixie chicks" to portraits of Confederate war heroes, will cost students two days suspension for the first offense, five for the second and 10 for the third, Evans said. The emblem violates the Beaufort County School District’s Code of Conduct, he said, which states students cannot wear clothing that can "disrupt or interfere with the school environment."

"The shirts clearly, because of their symbolic nature, are offensive," Evans said.

Some students disagree and are planning a protest Wednesday morning. Evans said he hopes to resolve the issue before then.

One student’s parents are pressing charges against a hall monitor who they say grabbed their daughter’s arm too forcefully when he discovered she was wearing a Confederate shirt about a week ago. Renee Armstrong, whose daughter, Brook, was suspended Monday for wearing the shirt again, said she doesn’t see anything wrong with the shirts.

Armstrong said she plans to contact the American Civil Liberties Union about the incident and Tommy Armstrong, Brook’s father, said suspending students for wearing the shirts is pointless.

"A lot of kids are losing a lot of time at school," he said. "It’s senseless."

The Confederate flag is not the only symbol county schools take offense with, said district spokesman John Williams. Shirts with rock band, cigarette, alcohol and drug logos, or shirts with sexual innuendoes, also are against district policy. Principals have the final say on what is banned at their school, he said.

Battery Creek High School Principal Rodney Jenkins said the shirts also are taboo for his students.

"It’s hurtful to a great deal of my student body," he said. "My job is to provide an environment that is free of that."

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