Thinking about the Confederate flag

The Marana High School administration has banned the Confederate Flag from their campus in any form other than use in the school’s curriculum. 

This decision to ban the flag—more specifically, the Northern Virginia Battle Flag which is often referred to as the Confederate Flag—has caused a number of students and parents to protest on private land across the street. 

Last week, MHS Principal David Mandel sent out a letter outlining the school’s decision to ban the flag, citing a number of students and staff members feeling “unsafe.”

“When an element of student speech, whether by symbolic representation or explicit utterance, presents a significant potential for disruption to the education of students and the work of the adults on campus, we are responsible to address the situation,” Mandel wrote in the letter. “To that end, we concluded, that the display and possession of the Confederate Flag poses a reasonable barrier to feelings of safety and sense of well-being for a large number of our students and staff.”

Mandel wrote that he understands that they have a diverse campus with different viewpoints and stressed that this was not about passing judgment or taking one side over another, but instead trying to provide a campus setting where students can focus on learning. 

“I want to be clear that as a public school that serves this diverse community, we are not making judgments about the validity of either side; however, we are absolutely responsible to do what is in the best interest of protecting student safety and the well-being of all students,” Mandel wrote. 

“This action represents our efforts to provide a safe and supportive educational environment for all students, with recognition that the Confederate Flag, as a symbol, represents many things,” Mandel added. “We have a responsibility to teach critical thinking skills necessary as part of our citizenship. To that end, I want to make clear that the Confederate flag is not banned from the academic perspective of our educational efforts. The role of the Confederacy and the symbolic role that the Confederate flag occupies in our discourse as a society is important, and will continue to be present in our curriculum.”

Students and parents opposed to the ban believe that it is not only a violation of their First Amendment rights, but the case of the school choosing one group over another. A Facebook group called Parents Standing Up For Students Rights not only spells out their concerns over the ban, but also tries to convey their belief that the flag does not represent slavery or hate, but is a symbol of southern pride and the desire to stand up for one’s beliefs. 

The group maintains that students who display the flag have been labeled “country kids” and complains that the school officials “allow kids to flash gang colors, sag pants, allow young girls to dress that allows body parts to hang out.”

They also contend that other groups are not held to the same standard and that the students displaying the flag have been targeted.

“You have singled out a single group of kids for no reason and violated thier (sic) first admindment (sic) right freedom of speech,” the Facebook page reads. 

While the students displaying the flag have stated in a pair of television interviews that they are not aggressive and are merely displaying the flag, Marana Unified School District Spokesperson Tamara Crawley said that a number of students have felt intimidated. 

“Over the past month we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of students, staff, and parents sharing concerns related to feelings of intimidation, student tension and safety, even to the point of some student’s not wanting to come to school,” Crawley said. “After thorough investigation, research, and working closely with legal counsel, it was determined that the display and possession of the Confederate Flag on the MHS campus is likely to result in student fights, the disruption of school activities, and/or property destruction.”

Flag supporters are not backing down. In addition to flying the flag near school property, students and parents say they are planning on taking the matter to the Marana Governing Board and posts on the group’s Facebook page indicate that they too are considering legal action.

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