• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff 16

Confederate flag jacket leads to student’s suspension

In the aftermath of a TV news story about a Woodford County High School sophomore being suspended for three days after he refused to remove a jacket that looked like a Confederate flag, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said disciplinary action was taken by school administrators to ensure a safe environment for students. “We have an obligation to create a safe environment for all kids and to limit things that may or will create a disruption to that environment,” said Hawkins during a telephone interview on Monday. With everything happening across the country, “as it relates to that symbol,” a student wearing a Confederate flag jacket is “going to be a disruption to the environment and so we have an obligation to limit that (disruption),” he said. During a telephone interview on Tuesday morning, WCHS Principal Rob Akers said students have been allowed to wear representations of the Confederate flag “as long as it didn’t cause a disruption to the educational process. And this time we had some students who had contacted their parents, who contacted school personnel (to tell them) that their kids were feeling very uncomfortable. They weren’t feeling safe at school. And so that’s when we had to make a decision about whether we could leave the symbol on the kid.” The dress code policy for WCHS students does have a provision that prohibits clothing that’s “disruptive to the education process,” and Hawkins said the code of conduct allows disciplinary action to occur when a student is defiant, or in this case, refuses to remove a jacket deemed by school administrators to be disruptive to the learning process. The WCHS sophomore’s dad told WLEX-18, “We live in America; freedom of speech. So he ought to be able to wear his colors and his flag if that’s what he chooses to do.” His son’s suspension last Monday came several weeks after a violent protest in Charlottesville, and with strong views – both for and against – about the removal of Confederate statues in Kentucky and elsewhere. “It’s a very volatile issue and it’s one that can easily create a disruption in the building. And we want to eliminate those types of situations to make it the best learning environment possible,” said Hawkins. According to Akers, most students were wearing red-white-and-blue to celebrate “American Monday” last week. He said one student wore a Confederate flag sweatshirt, which he removed and got back at the end of the school day. Another student wore “an actual flag … a cape,” which he did not remove. As he has in the past, Hawkins again described schools as a microcosm of our society when asked if the recent racial tensions in the United States are becoming more of an issue here. “It is just an issue right now that is creating a lot of angst and a lot of discourse and disruption all across our country, and really in our own state,” he said. “You have to take all that into account when you’re trying to make (disciplinary) decisions. And again, what we want is the best environment possible for every kid in that building so they have the best chance to be successful. “That’s not always an easy spot to be in, but we’ve got to try to err on what’s going to be right for all of our kids in creating the best and safest environment that we can.” Akers cited a pep rally last Friday as “the best example of how our kids feel in our building.” Over 95 percent of the school’s 1,260 students – all races and all socioeconomic backgrounds – were dressed in black-and-gold so they could demonstrate their school pride together, he said. Asked about race relations in Woodford County schools, Hawkins said, “By and large, all of our kids get along. They treat each other with respect and compassion. And I think we’ve worked pretty hard at that. I think our community has worked pretty hard at that – in terms of having a place that everybody feels welcome and everybody feels comfortable.” However, Hawkins also knows what’s happening in terms of racial divisiveness in this country has not gone unnoticed by students here. “So you just try to be as prepared as you can be” to handle issues when they arise, he said. In a morning announcement last week, Akers said he reminded WCHS students that “everyone in our building has the absolute right to be there and feel safe, to feel secure, to feel welcome, and free from harassment. And if anything happens in our school that should start infringing on that right for those students then we will have to deal with it. But like I said, ‘We’ve only had an isolated incident with that.’”

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