Center Of Attention

By Joy E. Cressler/Staff Writer
Feb 21, 2007

The parents of the two girls who brought Confederate flag purses to school filed
a federal lawsuit Feb. 9 against Burleson High School Principal Paul Cash and
the Burleson ISD school board, asking the court to force the school to let them
carry the purses on campus.

Kirk Lyons, an attorney with Southern Legal Resource Center in Black Mountain,
N.C., filed the lawsuit and is demanding a jury trial on behalf of Rick and Shelby
McAllum, parents of student Aubrie McAllum, and Darrell and Joni Thomas, parents
of student Ashley Thomas, in the U.S. district court in Dallas.

The complaint seeks remedies for what they said are violations of McAllum’s
and Thomas’ “heritage and right to free speech.”

The suit stems from an incident that occurred when good friends McAllum and Thomas,
both 16-year-old juniors at the time, returned to Burleson High School on Jan.
3, 2006, after Christmas break with new purses covered with a Confederate flag,
which their parents gave them as gifts.

The girls were at different times summoned into the principal’s office,
where, according to their families, they were threatened with suspension if they
didn’t forfeit the purses until after school that day. They refused and
called their mothers.

The lawsuit said the school district’s “unconstitutional policies”
led to the girls being disciplined for their behavior when they “attempted
to express pride in their Southern ancestry, culture and heritage by carrying
purses bearing images of the Confederate battle flag.”

The lawsuit accuses the school of singling out the Confederate battle flag for
suppression while at the same time, failing to suppress other BHS students displaying
other types of symbolic expressions, including the swastika.

Cash said he doesn’t recollect an incident involving a student having a
swastika. The lawsuit said Assistant Principal Col. Paul Horton was dealing with
Thomas about her purse one day when she noticed a male student about three feet
away wearing a black jacket onto which a patch bearing an image of a swastika
had been sewn.

The suit said Thomas asked why she wasn’t allowed to carry her purse but
the other student could display a swastika. She said Horton told her, “You
are not allowed to have the purse” and told her to follow him into an office,
where she was sent home with an unexcused absence for refusing to empty the contents
of her purse and leave it at the office.

Later, Thomas’ mother asked Cash the same question about the swastika and
he said it “wasn’t my priority right now.”

The suit further alleges that the school board upheld the district’s dress
code interpretation, which says such symbols are disruptive in the face of “no
discernible disruption” resulting from the display of Confederate symbols.

The lawsuit banks the basis of its claim on the state’s overwhelming Confederate
history, citing several facts about the state, starting with its secession from
the Union in 1861 by a majority of largely white male native-Texas voters.

The suit said a majority of Burleson High School students and staff are of Confederate
ancestry. It also alleges that the school’s library and American history
classrooms have numerous books with depictions of the Confederate battle flag.

The suit points out that Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day as a state holiday
and that the girls and others remember their Confederate ancestors on Texas Confederate
Memorial Day on April 26.

Texas provided as many as 90,000 men to the Confederate Army, offering some of
the best units in Confederate service, the lawsuit said. In addition, 51 Texas
counties are named for Confederate soldiers, statesman or citizens, and 11 Texas
governors were Confederate citizens or soldiers.

“Confederate veterans built modern Texas and founded Texas businesses and
corporations that have grown into respected and powerful world-renowned enterprises,”
the suit said. “Whatever the faults of the Confederate soldier, a man of
his times, his descendants have an inalienable right to be proud of his memory
and accomplishments and to express that familial and patriotic pride appropriately.”

The suit admits that the Confederate battle flag has been abused by extremist
groups and so have other American and Christian flags. Therefore, the girls are
not responsible or accountable for any persons, past or present, at Burleson High
School or elsewhere, who may have abused the Confederate flag, the suit says.

Finally, the suit alleges that BISD’s ban on Confederate symbols is partly
due to its embarrassment at district demographics, which show that less than 2
percent of the district’s student population is black, for which “scape-goating
McAllum and Thomas shields BISD from accusations of systemic racism.”

The district has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit with rebuttal filings.

“We’re obviously going to defend the district’s position in
this,” Cash said.

The girls are seeking damages, declaratory judgment and permanent injunctive relief
for alleged violations against the First, Ninth and 14th Amendments of the U.S.
Constitution, plus free-speech violations.

On The Web: