CONFEDERATE SHIRT BANNED - Mark Antokas

02/10/04

Tension was high this morning as the Pinellas County School Board met to discuss an effort to ban the confederate flag at Tarpon Springs High School.

When Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean stated that he wanted the Democratic Party to appeal to Southerners with confederate flags on their pickup trucks, many Southerners were outraged by what they deemed as an unfair stereotype of the Southern man.

Perhaps Howard Dean wasn’t so wrong after all, as the rebel flag is an everyday sight in Florida, not just on pickup trucks, but also in our high schools.

Krista Abram is a 16-year-old junior at Tarpon springs high school in Pinellas county. Abram, who is bi-racial, moved to Florida from Pittsburgh, and was surprised to see a fellow student wearing a confederate flag on her t-shirt:

Abram

Abram began asking questions of other students and decided to survey her peers, hoping to prove to herself that her fellow students were not racist

Abram

She ended up being suspended from school for ten days. Her suspension was later reduced to three days. Pinellas County School superintendent Howard Hineslsey at a meeting of the Pinellas county school board tried to clarify why Abram was suspended, and to allay confusion caused by various newspaper reports.

Hinesley

School Board member Mary Brown is the first African American to be elected to the Pinellas county school board. She brought this issue to the board, stating that school policies need to be clarified. Currently, the Pinellas county code of conduct allows each individual school principal to ban students from wearing clothing or symbols that may disrupt the learning environment.

Brown

Brown said that the dress code should be clear, understandable by everyone, and not left to the discretion of individual administrators.

Several speakers from the public addressed the school board on the issue, including Charles Pedrick, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who sought to inform the Board of the historical role played by his ancestors. He said, however, that the board should either ban all symbols, or none.

Joe Marshall, the father of a child in the Pinellas county school, was angered by Mr. Pedrick’s presence, and told the Board how he feels about the confederate flag;.

Marshall

Billel Habbeebullah of the African Leadership Council of Pinellas County also stood in support of Mary Brown’s efforts:

Billel

Cliff Burney said that today’s students don’t know their history

Burney

14 year School Board veteran Linda Lerner saw the issue as a learning opportunity for Pinellas county students:

Lerner

And that is what the Board decided to do. Tarpon High principal and other educators will meet with Dr. Roy Kaplan of the National Conference for Community and Justice, which organizes prejudice prevention programs, and come up with a plan to bring the issue to students. After student feedback, the School Board will hold a workshop to discuss the issue. However, red tape and printing deadlines may get in the way, as Superintendent Hinelsely warned that the code of conduct must be at the printer by May, and Board member Mary Russell erupted when Hinesley said that it would be difficult to find time to work with the students on the issue of the rebel flag as FCATs and other tests are coming up shortly. After some debate, Hinesly agreed to do everything possible to get the process going in a timely manner.

Hinelsly also cited case law, and said that the flap over the confederate flag has not reached a point of crisis in Pinellas County.

Hinelsy

But Carolyn Grady, a freshman at Tarpon Springs High School, said that now, race relations are more tense than ever at her school, as there is a deep divide between students wearing confederate flags, and black students, who make up 6% of the school’s student body.

Grady

When asked whether she thought that students wore the confederate flag to honor their fallen ancestors, Krista Abram described some other images she has seen at Tarpon Springs High.

Abram

Abram was pleased to hear that the School Board debated the issue today, however, it will take more than discussion to satisfy Krista Abram.

Abram

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