When an Elkin High School student drove in the parking lot this past spring with a Confederate flag mounted in his truck bed, Principal Joel Hoyle asked him to take it down and not bring it back.
That was before the June 19th massacre of nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina, by 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Storm Roof started a national controversy over the Confederate flag.
Hoyle said he didn’t think anything had happened to prompt the student to mount the flag on his truck. “I asked him not to come back with it,” he said, “and he was fine by that.”
The flag didn’t cause any controversy at the time, the principal said, “and nothing was reported to me after that day.”
Hoyle said he will continue to handle any issues regarding the Confederate flag mounted or displayed on vehicles in the same manner. As for T-shirts or other items of clothing with the Confederate flag on them, Elkin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe said school officials will follow the board policy addressing clothing that is potentially disruptive in the classroom environment.
The policy forbids clothing that is “provocative, obscene or that would endanger children,” he said. “So if you’re talking about flags and so forth, I would suggest that could have the potential of being disruptive.”
Hoyle said he has noticed students with Confederate flags on T-shirts and stickers on vehicles, but they have not disrupted the school environment. “It’s not in the dress code specifically to ban Confederate flags,” he said, “and to my knowledge, we’ve not had an issue with the Confederate flag disrupting the school environment.”
Neither have the Yadkin and Wilkes county school systems, according to the superintendents. Yadkin Superintendent Dr. Todd Martin said the Yadkin County Schools does not have a specific policy regarding Confederate flags, T-shirts and stickers.
“It’s only been through the recent events that people have brought this to the forefront,” he said, “so we’ll deal with it as we always do. We follow board policy and federal law.”
Martin said he understands that some people view the Confederate flag as a way of displaying pride in their southern heritage and ideals of independence while others see it as a symbol of racial separation and oppression. As for any students who show up at school with Confederate flags or clothing, he said that will be left up to the respective school principals to address.
“If it causes a disruption to the learning environment,” Martin said, “the principal will certainly deal with it.”
Dr. Marty Hemric, superintendent of the Wilkes County Schools, said school personnel have to ensure that the constitutional rights of students are honored. “In that regard, we will work with students and parents as we always have around any issues of concern,” he said, “to make sure that we have the safest, most nurturing learning environment that we possibly can.”
Sonia Dickerson, public information officer for the Surry County Schools, said the school system will follow School Board Policy 4315 on the matter, which prohibits appearance or clothing that “(1) violates a reasonable dress code adopted and publicized by the school; (2) is substantially disruptive; (3) is provocative or obscene; or (4) endangers the health or safety of the students or others.”
“We are going to begin the 2015-16 school year on a very positive and uplifting note,” she said. “We look forward to a very smooth opening and an exciting school year for our students and staff.”
Bledsoe said the school system has not had a problem with students being inappropriately dressed or having inappropriate items in or attached to their vehicles and that he does not expect to during the 2015-16 school year. “Our students are good citizens,” he said, “and their parents have raised them to be reasonable and to make good decisions, so I don’t expect extremes, extremely inappropriate actions or behaviors.”
At the same time, Bledsoe said the students in the Elkin City Schools believe in their rights. “I really don’t expect any outrageous acts to take place,” he said, “but if some of these things do happen, we will address them. We want everyone to be treated fairly and justly.
“Here again, we’re here to focus on academic achievement, and that’s what we want to continue to do.”
Hemric said he is astounded by students’ understanding of diversity and their proactive way of working together. “Today’s youth impress highly on those of us in the older generations that they get it,” he said. “They get it when it comes to embracing each other and working together.
“Our youths care about each other and they work together with the leaders at our school. We’ll fly the American flag and the North Carolina flag and focus more on what we have in common rather than the differences.”
Kathy Chaffin may be reached at 336-258-4058.