Saying they wanted to supplement protections for LGBTQ students and students with disabilities, Orange County School Board members declined Monday night to add new language to the school system's dress code that would ban the Confederate flag from county schools. The measure, which would prohibit students from wearing clothing or accessories that are "indecent, profane, or racially intimidating," passed its first reading June 12. Advocates saw Monday's vote as a formality.
But board member Donna Coffey said she thought the language failed to address protections for LGBTQ and disabled students and motioned for the dress code matter to be sent back to committee for tweaking. Board member Brenda Stephens fired back, asking for the policy to be voted on as it was presented (she, Matthew Roberts, and Tony McKnight voted to approve the new language). But a majority of the board tipped the decision toward Coffey's recommendation.
The proposed dress code revision is a result of a months-long effort spearheaded by members of the Hate Free Schools Coalition, a grassroots organization made up of students, teachers, and other county residents that began when the mother of an African-American high school student noticed an abundance of Confederate flags on the Orange High School campus. And while HFSC members say they're sympathetic to LGBTQ and disabled students, at least one, Stacey Sewall, believes Coffey has something up her sleeve.
"This felt like it may have been designed to divide our communities," she says.
Seth Stephens, a spokesman for OCPS, was not immediately available for comment. But in a move Sewall believes was made to suppress groups like HFSC, the board is also considering revising its policy for public comment at school board meetings. Among the changes being discussed are time limits on speakers and requiring that all people scheduled to speak on a given matter be lumped together so their point can be made by a lone representative.
Changes to the public comment procedure are also currently in committee for debate ahead of a decision by the board.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Stars, Not Barred"