Superintendent bans Confederate flag after students' display in Bloomington

Confederate flags at Bloomington North

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Three students at Bloomington High School North wore Confederate flags in the hallway Wednesday. (Submitted photo)
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WTHR) - The superintendent of Bloomington schools has banned the Confederate flag from classrooms and other property at Bloomington High School North after a display by four students Wednesday.

Staff at the high school wanted to let students exercise their free speech. But by the end of the day, speech clashed with students wanting a safe school environment.

Students at the school met with Monroe County Community School Corporation Superintendent Dr. Judith DeMuth to express their concerns about the students wearing the flags in the hallway of the high school. They told Eyewitness News they were offended when the students wore Confederate flag t-shirts and wrapped themselves in Confederate flags all day Wednesday.

They called the display "intimidating hate speech."

In an email to Eyewitness News, one student said some of their classmates were so upset, they were crying at the sight of three fellow students wrapped in Confederate flags. The concerned students also said the other students wearing the flag made anti-LGBT statements.

"They were using the 'F' slur and they were saying that if the gays get to wear the rainbow flag, then they should get to wear the Confederate flag, because it represents their heritage," one student said.

"It also has become something that symbolizes anti-gay at our school," said student Gaia Hendrix-Petry as she and other students walked in to district offices to get a meeting with the superintendent.

"Everyone felt pretty unsafe. Me, myself, I could not even eat lunch. It's made me sick to my stomach, absolutely. If you can't feel safe in school and that kind of thing is going on around here, it's not just me. It's the collective feeling of everyone," said student Caleb Poer.

The students felt no action was taken even after it was reported to school administrators.

"Like my friend said, it was hanging behind people as they were lynched. It was hanging behind those who were enslaved. It is a direct symbol of oppression and to bring that into our school, to bring the symbol of hatred into our school. It is just unacceptable," said Hendrix-Petry.

"That is something we won't stand for as a school corporation. Any incident that causes a substantial disruption we can't allow and that's where we stand as a corporation," said school district spokesman Andrew Clampitt. "We don't want to hinder our students' learning abilities. That's one of our top priorities."

DeMuth promised to work with the students who requested the meeting, then about a half-hour later, a jubilant student emerged, saying "the Confederate flag has been banned from being worn at North at all!"

"Today was...it was a huge step. It was one step of many," said Poer.

"Now we will no longer have this incivility in our school, which is so awesome," said another student.

First and foremost, we want it known we listen to our students and we are here for them," Clampitt said after the decision. "Balancing the First Amendment rights of all individual in a democracy can be a challenging task. Doing that with teenagers can prove to be even more challenging."

Comments on the WTHR Facebook page questioned the decision.

"Are they going to ban everything that everyone feels offensive or threatened by or only if it's politically incorrect?" asked one viewer.

"Are they also going to ban all of the other flags students have been wearing too, because they have also made others feel uncomfortable?" asked a student's mother.

Eyewitness News asked if there will be any punishment for the students who brought the flags to school Wednesday. Administrators say that would be handled on a case-by-case basis, but at the time the students came to school, the Confederate flag was not banned.

The Confederate flag had previously been banned on the campus of Bloomington High School South.

Bloomington North Principal Jeffry Henderson sent the following letter to parents Wednesday:

Dear Parent/Guardian,

The safety and wellbeing of all of our students is always at the forefront of everything we do as a school.

Recently, a few students have chosen to wear confederate flags draped over their backs like a cape. This has caused several of our students to feel unsafe.

As an educational institution, one of the things we focus on is teaching tolerance for opposing points of view and civil discourse surrounding controversial issues. Balancing the first amendment rights of all individuals in a democracy can be a challenging task. Doing that with teenagers, can prove to be even more challenging.

The Supreme Court Case Tinker vs. Des Moines established the litmus test when schools have the right to limit students’ expression. That case established the standard that when students’ actions cause substantial disruption to the educational environment, the school can intervene and limit the students’ expression.

Throughout the day, this issue has evolved into one that has created a substantial disruption to the educational environment. As a result, students may no longer wear or display images of the confederate flag on their clothing or any other personal item while at school or a school-sponsored event or function due to the disruption it has created.

Please discuss this with your student and ensure that they understand that they are not to wear or display the confederate flag on any item.

Thank you in advance for helping us ensure that Bloomington North is a safe and respectful learning environment.