Students suspended for displaying Confederate flag

Thursday, January 15, 2009

MARYSVILLE, Wash. – At least three students were suspended from Marysville-Pilchuck High School after displaying the Confederate flag.

Ray Hauser, spokesperson for the school district, said one incident occurred in October, and another just last week.

The students say the flag is a symbol of culture and heritage, but the school district says it’s also a symbol of hatred.

Hauser said the students are aware of school policy, and when the administration learned of the displays, the students were called in for a discussion and suspensions occurred immediately.

Eighteen-year-old Ethian Allen is a senior at the school. Over the past few months, he and his friends have been flying the Confederate flag on their cars. To them it’s not a symbol of racism — but of heritage and the "redneck culture," which they embrace.

"I think as a right of free speech we should have whatever flag we want," he said. "Nobody has come up to us and said it offends them in any way, besides the administration."

After they brought it on school grounds, a few of them got 10-day suspensions.

"There are two different sides to the Confederate flag, one of heritage the other a connection to a symbol of hatred," said Hauser.

The district says its policy on the flag stems from a series of incidents back in 2004. A cross burning at the home of a local African American pastor sparked a series of confrontations at the high school involving the Confederate flag. So the so-called Southern Cross was banned. It’s even written in the school handbook.

"While we want to recognize a student’s right to free speech, we certainly have the first duty to make sure all our students are safe," Hauser said.

The students say no one has complained to them and they feel the school policy is not enforced fairly.

It may be a right of free speech, but the district cites case law which allows them to ban symbols from school grounds if they interfere with safety and the learning process. They say the Confederate flag is a prime example.

© 2009 WWL-TV, INC.

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