“Ban it now.”
It was the resounding refrain from dozens of individuals asking the Orange County Schools Board of Education to ban Confederate flags from school properties during the board’s Monday meeting.
But despite the pleas, the school board said it would not ban the Confederate flag, and instead would establish an equity committee of the school board to advise the board on several items, including symbolic speech. Board members and OCS will not tolerate hate speech, bullying or intimidation, stressed Chairman Stephen Halkiotis.
“We understand that improvement is an ongoing process and we are committed to collaborating with our community to support the health and well-being of all students,” he said.
The Northern Orange County NAACP asked the Orange County Schools Board of Education to ban the Confederate flag on school grounds during the board’s earlier meeting in February. It was the second time the NAACP chapter made the request, prompting a flurry of backlash on both sides of the issue.
“To the NAACP, that includes the historical context of the Confederate flag to slavery, the Confederacy, the Civil War and Jim Crow,” NAACP President Patricia Clayton said in her letter to the school board members. “For many, the flag is a racially inflammatory symbol, which is undeniably rooted in slavery and racism. Given OCS’ commitment to serve all students, the district should not allow the Confederate flag on its campuses.”
People of all ages wore NAACP and “Ban it now” shirts and buttons during the Monday meeting while more than 50 people signed up to speak during the public comments portion, with a vast majority asking for the flag to be banned or officially added as an agenda item to be discussed by the board.
Several OCS students, parents, employees and community members pointed to increased Confederate flags appearing on vehicles, bags and pieces of clothing on school grounds. Some pointed to an incident last week at Cedar Ridge High School where a student reportedly carried a Confederate flag around the school asking if students were offended. One woman stated that the student asked her child if they found the Confederate flag to be offensive and used a racial slur toward her child.
Shaniece Thorpe, a junior at Orange High School, said she doesn’t appreciate it when her fellow students use the Confederate flag to make themselves feel superior to her and other black students.
“It makes me feel isolated and distracts me,” she said. “...I have the same potential or more potential than the people who feel like I am belittled in my class.”
Through tears, Kelly Doherty asked why her 11-year-old daughter’s potentially bare thigh was a “distristraction” worth discussing in the dress code while the Confederate flag was not mentioned. There are students, she said, who are too scared and affected by the intimidation from students wearing Confederate flags to speak out.
“We have been challenging the schools and their dress code policy for allowing the Confederate flag on school properties,” said Latrandra Strong, founder of Hate-Free Schools and Coalition, an organization that helped rally many of the attendees at Monday night. “We feel like the Confederate flag has dual meaning. Some of it is southern heritage, but there is also an element about racial intimidation, harassment and racial superiority. And we think that it is not embracing of all citizens and thus should not be allowed on campus.”
Johnson: 919-419-6675; @anna_m_johnson