News Item: Lakeville MN declines to ban Confederate Flag Symbol
(Category: Misc)
Posted by 8milereb
Monday 01 June 2009 - 14:21:38

Lakeville school board declines to ban Confederate flag decal

Shane Amundson says the Confederate flag decal on his pickup truck is not racist, and the Lakeville school board declined to ban the flag outright.
The school board was concerned that banning the rebel flag on campus would violate the Constitution.

By SARAH LEMAGIE, Minneapolis/St Paul Star Tribune
When Shane Amundson's girlfriend gave him a large Confederate flag decal for his pickup truck, he had no idea the image would cause a stir at Lakeville South High School.

The student's truck, which he parks in the school lot, has sparked a local debate over where schools should draw the line between preventing harassment and allowing free speech. Amundson's decal led to several complaints and a petition - signed by roughly 50 Lakeville school employees -- calling for the school board to ban the Confederate flag from school grounds.

But on Wednesday, the school board quickly rejected the idea, heeding the advice of district administrators who said the move could violate the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. District officials praised Lakeville South for the way it has handled the controversy. Superintendent Gary Amoroso added that the district retains the right and would "swiftly act" to shut down any behavior deemed to violate the district's existing anti-harassment policy, which deals with situations on a case-by-case basis.

The board's stance disappointed some at Lakeville South, including teacher Peter Woollen, who worried the district could be heading down a slippery slope and said several students have told him the symbol offends them. "If they're confronted with things that are degrading to them, that ought to be looked at," Woollen said.

The Confederate flag, seen by many as a racist symbol, is defended by others as an icon of Southern culture and history.

Amundson, a senior who will be honored as a Lakeville South student of the month this week, said he and his family are not racist. "It's just not who we are," he said. "God loves everybody, and skin color does not matter." To him, the flag reflects a "Dukes of Hazzard" way of life. "Me and my buddy are really into the whole redneck-type thing," he said. "We love working on our trucks. We love, absolutely love, going mudding."

Woollen said he's not accusing the student of being racist, but perhaps "naive."
Amundson's decal takes up the entire back window of his truck.
Its presence on campus has offended some people at Lakeville South, including a handful of students who have spoken to the school board or met with principal Scott Douglas. At least two parents complained to school officials, and Woollen filed a formal objection with the district last month.
The district, however, felt the mere presence of the decal in the parking lot did not violate district policy or disrupt the educational process, said Tony Massaros, the district's director of administrative services.
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear appeals from students disciplined for displaying the Confederate flag as recently as 2000. Many lower courts that have faced the issue have upheld decisions made by school administrators.
To win a legal battle over disciplining students who display the Confederate flag, officials must show that the flag is likely to disrupt the educational process, and courts often look at individual circumstances such as whether a school is struggling with racial tension, said Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.
"Many, if not most, would find the Confederate flag offensive, but just being offensive isn't enough," she said.
In Lakeville, district officials advised Douglas not to order Amundson to take down the decal, pointing out that it was outside the school building and there was no sign the student meant to antagonize others. Instead, Douglas sat down to talk with Amundson about why the flag offends some people. Amundson didn't want to remove the decal, but offered to park off school grounds.
He did that for a few days, but when his parents worried that someone would smash his window, he went back to school officials and got permission to park in the school lot, draping an American flag over the decal.

Since then, the principal said he has talked to two other students who have displayed Confederate flag symbols in their vehicles. One student draped a flag on the dashboard of his vehicle, prompting school officials, who saw the move as an intentional escalation of the situation, to order him to take it down. The student began using it as a seat cover, which Douglas said was acceptable.
Douglas called the controversy "a teachable moment," saying, "I think our student body has done a good job of listening to each other and of understanding each other's positions."
Other schools have reacted differently. Last summer, three seniors were suspended and barred from graduation ceremonies at Bloomington Kennedy High School after school officials said they waved Confederate flags in the parking lot as students arrived for class.
A survey of several nearby districts showed that none have policies specifically addressing the Confederate flag, and few individual schools -- Bloomington Kennedy was an exception -- ban it in student handbooks, Massaros said.
Bloomington district spokesman Rick Kaufman cautioned that, when administrators aren't consistent about how they handle the issue, "Then, I think, that's when schools get themselves into problems."
Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016

[Submitted by 8milereb]

This news item is from Southern Heritage Advancement Preservation and Education
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