In Virginia, school officials are grappling over whether to ban certain clothing not for what it overtly says, but for what people read into it.
Members of the Franklin County School Board discussed whether to explicitly ban the Confederate flag in the school dress code, the Roanoke Times reports, finally putting off the decision for a third time after a long and emotional exchange.
Before the board addressed the issue, three speakers condemned the flag. “The flag just straight up represents slavery,” said Franklin County farmer Sherman Witcher.
Member-at-large Penny Blue, the only African American on the board, first raised the issue in October, citing the Confederate flag a symbol of racism. At Monday’s meeting, she said the school board needs to clarify that the flag represents discrimination, for the sake of educating students.
“It has always been about hate,” she claimed, not altogether accurately.
Other school board members took pains to condemn the flag but questioned whether banning it would be constitutional. “I don’t like the flag either,” said Boone district representative Donna Cosmato. “We don’t have the right to tell somebody else they cannot do it.”
“I would rather people choose not to do it than be told they cannot,” said Rocky Mount representative Jeff Worley.
Blue countered that the proposed dress code change as worded shouldn’t be adopted because it’s too vague to be effective. Under that guideline, “I can wear anything I want and say it doesn’t mean hate,” Blue said.
Chairwoman Julie Nix said that she has had discussions with students who said wearing the image of the Confederate flag wasn’t a controversy. “I just feel like we’re going to drive a wedge between the students that isn’t there right now.”
Other board members balked at the idea of banning the Confederate flag. Board Vice Chairman and Blackwater District representative Charles Jamison argued that sporting that flag can’t be universally interpreted as an expression of hate, while Cosmato expressed concerns that such a ban could be seen as a violation of free speech rights.
Ultimately the majority chose to keep investigating the issue after Blue made a motion to table it.