More than six months after the parent of an Orange High School student founded the Hate Free Schools Coalition in response to Confederate flags on T-shirts, backpacks, and hats on campus, the Orange County Board of Education voted Monday evening to ban racially intimidating symbols from inside local schools.
While the policy change won't be official until a second vote is held, should the board move forward with the revision to the system's dress code, students would be prohibited from wearing "clothing, buttons, patches, jewelry or any other items with words, phrases, symbols, pictures or signs that are indecent, profane, or racially intimidating." That’s a victory for those who say the heritage being celebrated by Orange students who wear the flag is a "heritage of hate."
The issue has been a hot topic across the county since LaTarndra Strong founded the HFSC in December
, with opponents of the ban calling the potential move an unconstitutional swipe at free speech. But coalition member Stacey Sewall rejected their claim, citing court rulings that give school systems the authority to ban disruptive hate speech on campuses. (Several federal circuit courts have found that Confederate flags have the potential to be "disruptive" and can heighten racial tensions, and thus school boards can prohibit them.)
The Confederate flag is not the only inflammatory symbol that has been on display inside Orange schools. A biracial thirteen-year-old told the INDY
that in early May, an eighth grader at Gravelly Middle School in Efland drew a swastika on his arm and was showing it off in the hallways.
Sewall characterizes Monday as a "great evening" and says that she and the hundreds of members of HFSC were "pleased" by the board's decision. "We think the policy is preferable to the previous language because it better protects students, and we're going to do all that we can to make sure this policy is enforced," she says.