Lakeville South High School administrators have banned the Confederate flag from campus for the remainder of the school year after students argued over the symbol in the parking lot.
Five students wore T-shirts and accessories depicting the Confederate flag and one displayed the flag on his truck on Sept. 24 for “red, white and blue” day during homecoming week, said Tony Massaros, the school district’s executive director of administrative services.
Complaints from staff and other students increased throughout the day and eventually a student ripped the flag from the truck and tore it to pieces, Massaros said. Twenty-four students were then involved in a “verbal altercation” in the school parking lot, he said.
The school resource officer and staff broke up the argument, and campus administrators decided to ban the Confederate flag for the 2015-16 academic year. No students were disciplined in connection with the incident.
“They will use this as an opportunity to discuss this issue,” Massaros said. “They view this as a teachable moment for students.”
National debate over the Confederate flag intensified this summer following the murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. The flag was removed from the South Carolina Capitol grounds following the murders, which police have said were racially motivated.
The September incident marks the second time in recent years that Lakeville schools have had to deal with controversy over the flag.
In 2009 about 50 Lakeville district staff members submitted a petition to the school board that sought to ban the Confederate flag from school grounds. At the time, a Lakeville South student had been driving a truck with a Confederate flag decal to school.
The board declined to ban the symbol on the advice of district administrators, who said the move could violate First Amendment rights.
Massaros said the most recent incident is different because the flag disrupted the educational process. In such cases, the district said in a statement, students’ free speech rights can be restricted.
School board member Jim Skelly said the altercation and disruption “needed to be addressed.”
“It’s not like an emotional reaction,” he said of the ban.
Skelly said he had not heard of any complaints to the school board.
In an e-mail to parents, the school district said it “will continue to monitor the situation to ensure the safety and well-being of all students. Lakeville South High School administrators also will take this opportunity to discuss both sides of this controversial issue.”