Flag no longer an issue

The News Virginian
Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Two months after a dress code flap with one student grew into a debate over how
to interpret Confederate history, Waynesboro High School seems to be easing its
stance on students wearing the Confederate flag to school.

Educators say there has been no change in the school’s position on the
controversial clothing, although at least one Waynesboro family has seen a difference
in how staff are handling it.

At the start of this school year, 16-year-old Steven McDonaldson was twice
ejected from class for wearing T-shirts bearing the Rebel flag. Today, his mother
says the high school junior no longer has any problems.

“He’s continued wearing them to school and hasn’t been sent
out of any more classes,” said Lisa Benson, who supported her son’s
determination to continue wearing the flag over the school’s objections.

“All of the kids really supported Steven,” Benson said, noting
that many wore flag shirts to school immediately following the controversy as
a sign of unity. “And now he’s allowed to wear them. Nobody said
anything else about it, so I assume it’s settled.”

At the time of the incident, Benson – who along with her son maintained the
flag was a symbol of their Southern heritage, not of hatred and racism as some
perceive it – referred to the school’s decision as “just stupidity.”

Officials said the flag, which does inspire divided feelings even here in the
South, fell under a dress code provision that bars any clothes that “reflect
adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, national origin,
or ancestry.”

Principal Sue Wright said that’s still the school’s feeling, but
officials won’t impose a ban as long as the classrooms remain undisturbed.

“We really just watch when it interrupts instruction,” she said.
“… [Recently] it hasn’t really been a disruption, and everyone’s
really just moved on.”

In 2001, a federal court of appeals ruled that wearing an image of the flag
fell under First Amendment protection, and schools couldn’t prohibit it
unless it was causing a disturbance – a decision that was hailed by pro-Confederate

Wright said it was her responsibility to ensure every student at Waynesboro
High had a healthy learning environment. At the same time, she also wanted to
encourage her teenage charges to express themselves.

“It’s really about respecting each other,” she said.

“I always tell folks to make statements people can listen to you with.
15-, 16- and 17-year-olds have a lot to say, and I think it’s important
we as adults listen to them rather than try to push our own thoughts onto them.”

© 2006 Media General

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