Panel at Sullivan South studying school ‘climate,’ not flag

By Rick Wagner
May 29th, 2010

KINGSPORT — A committee formed at Sullivan South High School after a complaint about the rebel flag on campus is not simply addressing the flag, said the school’s principal.

Instead, the group of about 18 — which had an organizational meeting last week — is looking at the “climate” of the school.

“It was not put together to ban the rebel flag,” South Principal Greg Harvey said.

“We’re not planning any kind of a big forum on the flag because our task is to look at school climate,” Harvey said. “What will come from school climate that might affect the flag is anybody’s guess.”

Media coverage of the issue has been followed by newspaper letters to the editor and e-mails and other information sent to the school and Central Office.

“We pretty much are seeing how people view the flag through comments in the newspaper,” Harvey said of views pro and con.

Sullivan County Schools spokeswoman Janie Barnes said she has seen e-mails for and against the flag, which actually is the battle flag of Virginia.

Harvey said he’s received lots of information recently from groups and individuals about the flag.

“Everybody’s got an opinion on it. I hate to see all this. It brings a negative focus to our school,” Harvey said. “As far as here on campus, there haven’t been any more flags than normal.”

The school’s nickname is the Rebels, and the mascot is a colonel sometimes call Col. Reb, a caricature of a gray-uniformed colonel with a mustache and goatee in the Confederate Army.

Harvey said the flag isn’t anywhere in the building, except maybe depicted in history books or possibly periodicals, but the flag is at times outside on student vehicles and displayed at football games.

“One (complaint) is too many. You want to look into that,” Harvey said. “It is not the official flag of Sullivan South High School. It never has been.”

The committee is reviewing the overall school climate at South. Such annual reviews are systemwide. Since a 2004 consent order settling a complaint by a student at Sullivan East High School, the Sullivan County system has developed Respect and Leadership teams of students and has taken other school climate measures.

Harvey said the first meeting drew about 18 people, including one teacher from each department, he and other administrators at the school, Barnes, Assistant Director of Schools Gene Johnson, Board of Education member Larry Harris, and BOE attorney Pat Hull.

Harvey described the group as on a “fact-finding mission” on what the overall school climate is, what areas are good, and what areas need improvement.

He said the group likely would not meet much if any this summer, although outgoing Director of Schools Jack Barnes has said he hoped a resolution would be reached before football season begins in the fall.

Barnes’ contract ends June 20, and the new director of schools, Jubal Yennie, plans to be on board by June 21.

Barnes said some in the community have asked to be on an expanded committee.

“We’re not looking for a committee of 50 or 60,” Harvey said. “It sounds like they think we’re looking for 50 to 100 people to make comments and give their opinion on the flag.”

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