School's flag ban is upheld

Published: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 31, 2002 at 11:24 p.m.
School officials did not violate two Santa Fe High School students' constitutional right of free speech by banning them from displaying Confederate flags, a federal judge has ruled.
Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul closed the 2001 case by recently issuing an order that said, "The school administrators did nothing wrong in banning the display of Confederate flags on school property.
"School officials presented evidence of racial tensions existing at the school and provided testimony regarding fights which appeared to be racially based in the months leading up to the actions underlying the case.
"Additionally, one only needs to consult the evening news to understand the concern school administrators had regarding the disruption, hurt feelings, emotional trauma and outright violence which the display of the symbols involved in this case could provoke."
Franklin Jay "J.J." Scott Jr. and Nicholas Thomas, then 17-year-old juniors, filed a federal lawsuit over their suspensions from the Alachua County school.
In September 2000, Scott rode into the school parking lot with the flag on his antenna, but removed it once he parked, court records state. It occurred a month after he had been told not to display the flag. He was suspended from campus, and his zoning exemption was revoked, meaning he had to change schools the following year.
That same month, Thomas wore a "Legends in Gray" shirt to school. It showed Confederate soldiers marching through a field carrying the flag.
He was given an in-school suspension and told not to wear the shirt on campus. When he did the following month, he got another in-school suspension.
An attorney for the students maintained there was no "unrest" at the school in connection with the flag.
Flag's two meanings
The School Board fought the lawsuit, arguing the ban was appropriate because of the potential disruption displaying the symbols would likely create.
During the case, evidence had been produced showing at least four students had been told not to wear the flag to school and that the school had a rule banning the flag's display because it "offended certain people."
Paul noted in the early August ruling that both sides had experts, some saying the flag is not a symbol of racism but a historical symbol of Southern heritage and others saying it is a symbol of white supremacy and has acquired racist associations.
The judge said the problem is both are correct.
"Words like 'symbol,' 'heritage,' 'racism,' 'power,' 'slavery,' and 'white supremacy' are highly emotionally charged and reveal that for many, perhaps most, this is not merely an intellectual discourse," Paul said.
"Real feelings - strong feelings - are involved. It is not only constitutionally allowable for school officials to closely contour the range of expression children are permitted regarding such volatile issues, it is their duty to do so."
Support for schools
Bill Cliett, Alachua County's deputy superintendent for curriculum, said the courts generally have been supportive of schools when the system finds something is disruptive.
Alachua County school policy says students must dress in a way that is not offensive to others or inappropriate and does not disrupt the learning process.
It also states students must recognize the rights of others by not expressing themselves in a manner which doesn't disrupt the school, violate its rules or infringe on the rights of others.
The school board is seeking $11,358.66 in court costs, court records show.
Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092 or

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