View Full Version : School Board Examines Flag Ban

06-18-2005, 12:19 AM
School board examines flag ban


The Hernando School Board will consider banning clothing that displays any flag other than the American flag. Some are worried about First Amendment rights.

Published June 17, 2005

BROOKSVILLE - Students in Hernando County who want to show their patriotic pride may be limited to the stars and stripes.

The School Board is considering a proposal that would forbid them from wearing apparel that displays any flag other than the American flag.

The proposed ban, which would be unique in the Tampa Bay region, was drafted by a district committee examining changes to the student code of conduct. In addition to barring students from wearing the Confederate flag, the proposal would keep them from wearing the flag of any other country, unless there is "a designated ethnic recognition activity held at the school."

The scope of the flag ban could make it vulnerable to litigation. Becky Steele, director of the West Central Florida region of the American Civil Liberties Union, said it was "overly broad" and would create "serious first amendment problems."

Barbara Renczkowski, president of the Hernando County council of PTAs and a member of the committee that proposed the change, said the ban had come up because officials wanted to head off students who might wear the Confederate flag to school. Members then decided to expand the ban rather than keep it narrow, Renczkowski said.

"It was an observation that it could possibly cause problems," Renczkowski said. "They just felt it would be easier to ban them all (except the American flag) instead of just one."

Renczkowski did not remember any member of the district committee strongly objecting to the changes. She said she didn't have strong feelings on the issue.

When told about the proposal, School Board Chairman Robert Wiggins said he had serious problems and wanted to talk about the issue before a vote on Tuesday.

"I don't know if I could support that wholeheartedly," Wiggins said. "We've definitely got some freedom of speech issues...It's something we need to discuss as a board."

Many school districts give principals the authority to bar students from wearing clothing that could cause a disruption in class - gang colors or skimpy clothing, for example. But Steele said school districts need to show that a type of clothing would directly lead to disorder or cause a disturbance.

"An undifferentiated fear is not enough," she said.

When other school districts in the region tried to regulate flags, they became entangled in controversy.

After administrators at Freedom High School in Tampa Palms disciplined a handful of students for wearing flags, including Colombian flags, in 2004, the incident led to suspensions, allegations of racism and protests.

That came in the aftermath of an incident in neighboring Pasco County: Four white students strung a Confederate flag over Hudson High School as a late-night prank. The incident spurred arguments,four suspensions and two arrests before the school banned the symbol from the campus.

At Tarpon Springs High School in Pinellas County, Krista Abram was suspended for circulating a petition to ban the Confederate flag. Her suspension was reduced from 10 days to three, and the Pinellas County School Board toughened its dress code, instructing principals to keep student clothing from disrupting learning.

Some don't foresee any disruptions in Hernando. Gladys Pedersen, the director of the scholarship committee at the Latin American Civic and Cultural Association of Spring Hill, said she wasn't concerned about the flag ban in Hernando County. A substitute teacher in the county's schools, Pedersen said she rarely sees students wear clothes with flags on them anyway.

The Confederate flag still raises emotions in Hernando County, however. Earlier this year, Brooksville city council member Frankie Burnett proposed removing the Confederate battle flag from the city's seal because he felt it was not racially inclusive. After opposition sprouted, Burnett withdrew the idea.

-- Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or 352-848-1431.