Confederate flag prom dress keeps TN student from celebration

Apr. 24, 2012

Gibson County High School senior Texanna Edwards was — like many of her classmates — looking forward to her prom last Saturday.

But Edwards didn’t get to attend because of her attire — a knee-length red dress decorated with bright blue stripes and white stars inside the stripes. The school’s colors are red, white and blue, but the dress resembles the controversial Confederate battle flag.

Edwards, 18, said she wasn’t allowed inside the prom after school officials told her the Confederate flag prom dress was “offensive and inappropriate.”

“We asked why they thought that, but they kept saying the same thing over and over,” she said Monday. “We kept asking people walking inside — black and white — and everyone said they loved it. Two black women even went off on the principal. They were upset with the principal. No one was upset with me.”

School officials said a teacher warned Edwards about two months ago that the dress might not be acceptable. The teacher, who served as prom sponsor, expressed concern and suggested to Edwards in February that she should clear the idea with the principal, but Edwards did not do so, said Eddie Pruett, director of schools for the Gibson County School System.

Pruett said there have been race-related issues at Gibson County High School in recent years and that Principal James Hughes thought Edwards’ dress could have caused a problem.

“She was told because of the dress and what it would look like, it would be considered inappropriate,” Pruett said. “She had talked with the prom sponsor and they told her it would be inappropriate. … I feel like Hughes followed legal precedents set by other court cases. Students have legal rights, and we don’t infringe upon those. But we have to follow legal precedents, and if there is a reason to believe something could happen, we don’t wait until after the fact to do something.”

Offer to change is rejected

Edwards said she told several people about her idea and many liked it. Only the one teacher said the dress was a bad idea and that she should check with school administration, she said.

“I didn’t talk with administration because we wore rebel flags all through my four years at Gibson County,” she said. “I didn’t ask for approval because I didn’t think I needed to. I had one teacher tell me it was a bad idea. but I just thought she only said that because it would offend people. But I asked a bunch of people before I had the dress made and they all loved the idea.”

Kim Lee, Edwards’ mother, said her daughter was told by school officials when she arrived at the prom that she could go home and change and then be admitted, but she didn’t. About $500 was spent on her hair, makeup, the dress and her date’s apparel, the family said.

Edwards said, in a way, she wanted her dress to look like the Confederate flag because she lives in the South and at the time she didn’t know if there was a dress like hers. She had the dress custom made.

She said in her four years as a student, she’s seen students wearing clothing bearing the Confederate flag with no incident.

But she said on Monday friends were sending her texts and messages saying school officials were checking for rebel flags and making students hide them as a result of this incident.

“As far as our dress code — girls can’t show cleavage, wear short shorts or have holes in our clothes, and boys can’t have saggy pants,” Edwards said.

‘Unfortunate incident’

Pruett said the dress code for each school is left to the discretion of the principal. Pruett was the principal of the high school until the end of the school year in 2011.

“Their job is to make sure their school is a safe learning environment,” he said. “Whenever they have after-school activities — be it a game, prom or something else — they have to ensure those same things apply. They have to ensure they have a safe environment for all students.”

Hughes — who was the assistant principal until this year — called Pruett to discuss the issue on prom night, Pruett said.

“I hate that the girl was not able to attend prom, and this is an unfortunate incident,” Pruett said. “But as a school district, we have to look out for the best interest for all students. You have to try to do what’s best for every child. Because of past incidents, Mr. Hughes felt that by admitting that dress it could cause a problem that night, or it could continue on throughout the school year.”

© 2012

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