Confederate flag display during Viera High graduation being reviewed by school officials
J.D. Gallop, FLORIDA TODAY
May 22, 2018
Confederate flag is a controversial symbol of slavery and a bow to heritage to others.
Brevard County Public School officials say a group of attendees at Viera High School’s graduation ceremony Saturday raised the Confederate battle flag several times during the ceremony before school officials noticed and asked the students to keep the flag down.
Officials say the flag display did not appear to be aimed at any particular student and was not disruptive.
School administrators reviewed the matter, questioned the students involved and talked with other school officials at the event to determine if the students involved acted or behaved inappropriately.
“No students were disciplined, following an investigation by Viera High administrators,” said Matt Reed, the spokesman for Brevard Public Schools.
“That’s because their intent was to wave a Confederate flag in celebration when a friend’s name was called to walk across the stage – not to (wave)it at non-white graduates — and because the students complied when an assistant principal asked them to put it away.”
The flag is seen as a controversial symbol of slavery and segregation to some and a bow to heritage to others.
Angela M. Kellem, the president of the Centreal Brevard Chapter of the NAACP, said the flag had no place at the ceremony. “What that flag represents to Black Americans is nothing short of terror. It is completely and utterly inappropriate and has no place at a graduation ceremony or any other place, for that matter,” Kellem told FLORIDA TODAY.
A dean assigned to monitor the crowds spotted the flag being held up at least three times during the ceremony and quickly told students clutching it to lower it, officials said.
“School administration set the tone early on that graduation ceremonies are formal events, and disruptions should be avoided. They asked for the flag to be lowered so it wouldn’t block the view of other guests and because it can be offensive to some,” said Jennifer Wolfinger, a spokeswoman for the school district.
“They wanted to keep the focus on the graduates and their accomplishments. School administrators have not received any complaints regarding the event,” Wolfinger added.
School officials said the dean involved did not notice any pattern or deliberate effort to target minorities with the symbol. A district review determined that, ‘the graduating senior had given the flag to (friends) were not Viera High students, and asked them to waive it for him when his name was called,” Reed said. “The student who held the flag is multi-racial and the senior who asked him to (wave) the flag is white,” Reed added.
The flag remains a point of contention for many. Last year, the Melbourne City Council debated the use of the flag with Councilwoman Teresa Lopez calling for the city to quit sponsoring parades where the flag was on carried openly by some participants. The city later voted to stop funding the parades. The flags, however, can still be displayed.
Marc Thornton, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Capt. J.J. Dickison Camp 1387, would not comment about the incident at Viera High.
Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, said the Confederate flag remains a disruptive symbol, even if it is afforded First Amendment protections.
“In a public school, the First Amendment applies,” said Paulson, who is a former editor of FLORIDA TODAY. “Certainly at a community-wide event, people can wear t-shirts with messages or hats with messages,” Paulson said.
But authorities can move to ask that such items be removed if they can create a disruption to the educational process or obstruct someone else’s view of the event.
“The school had a right to ask for them to put the (flag) down.”
Not everyone saw the display. “We haven’t received any complaints,” said Mike Alba, principal of the 2,100-student school. “I would say that we’ve always been very proud of how diverse our student body is. We’re a very open and diverse campus,” he said.
The students sat off to the side in bleachers, far from the center of attention down where the graduates were receiving their diplomas.
Victoria Mitchner, a past president of the Central Brevard branch of the NAACP, has a 17-year-old son who attends the school.
She discussed the issue with her son.
“As a parent of a minority child, things like this (are) concerning and also disheartening. A conversation should be had sooner than later regarding racial issues in this country. Nobody should be afraid regardless of their color to address this issue and discuss the elephant in the room,” she said.