County schools ban display of Confederate flag

Students will no longer be allowed to flaunt the confederate flag at Indian River County public schools and events, under a new policy the School Board is adding to the code of conduct.

The confederate flag ban would go into effect when schools reopen on Aug. 10, if approved by the School Board during a July 21 public hearing.

Students would no longer be allowed to “display or transmit” the confederate flag in any medium, including clothing, jewelry, posters, stickers, flyers, buttons, writings, images or symbols.

The confederate flag would only be permitted in educational materials about the Civil War.

The School Board voted 4-0 on June 23 to approve The Code of Student Conduct Handbook for 2020-2021 including new provisions banning the confederate flag as a “violence promoting symbol” and among items that “promote intolerance of confrontation.”

The board voted after hearing an outpouring of grief from several public speakers and 36 letter-writers who said they believe the confederate flag is still used in Indian River County schools to intimidate minority students as a symbol of enslavement, genocide and white supremacy.

“When I was a student at Vero Beach High School, I witnessed students waving a flag that made my stomach turn, a flag I’ve always despised,” wrote Jasmine Davis, a 2019 graduate. “When you allow that kind of behavior in our schools, you are responsible for every single fight or argument that occurs because of it. This flag represents nothing but oppression and white supremacy.

None of the speakers or letter-writers during the June 23 meeting favored continuing to allow the confederate flag in public schools.

Several School Board members said they are intent on resolving racial issues that have plagued the School District for five decades. That includes instituting the confederate flag ban and emerging from the federal desegregation order that went into effect in 1967.

“I whole-heartedly, unabashedly, fundamentally support banning the confederate flag from our schools, our offices, our properties,” said School Board member Mara Schiff. “We need to look at everything we do in this district through a racial equity lens. We need to be leaders here, not simply enforce a discriminatory status quo in Florida schools.”

A group of white students at Vero Beach High School stoked the confederate flag controversy in September 2017 by organizing their peers to engage in widespread displays of the confederate flag.

Many minority students and parents took offense. The NAACP, Indian River County Branch called for a ban on the confederate flag on campuses.

But former Schools Superintendent Mark Rendell argued the learning environment was not disrupted and the former School Board majority opted not to ban the confederate flag.

The 2018 election brought three professional educators to the five-member school board, the ouster of Rendell in 2019 and the hiring of new Superintendent David Moore, who made equity a priority for his administration.

Moore, who worked his way up the educational ranks in the diverse Miami-Dade County School District, said he wants to “ensure that we bring equity to the forefront.”

Schiff and the two other board members elected in 2018 – Teri Barenborg and Jacqueline Rosario – said its time to address longstanding racial issues.

“We cannot erase the past, but we can learn from the past,” said Barenborg, who has worked as a teacher and principal. “I believe this board’s job is to make sure if something is used with the intent to offend or discriminate, then we need to make sure we’re against it.”

“We have overwhelmingly gotten people to write, to call us, to stand up and speak tonight in favor of us putting this not just in our school dress code, but also in our equity policy,” Barenborg said. “I have received a few [messages] that are on the opposite side.”

In response, Barenborg said, “This confederate flag needs to stay in history books. It needs to be taught as a history lesson.”

Rosario, who also has worked as a teacher and principal, said she ran for School Board to help address the confederate flag and desegregation order issues.

“For many, the confederate flag brings that same ill feeling and anxiety, such as gang paraphernalia, the iron cross, the blood drop cross,” Rosario said. “These are all symbols of hate that should never be welcome on our campuses.”

“I believe we should ban the confederate flag, not just part of the dress code, but also on any part of our school campuses including any of our school-related functions,” Rosario said.

“I personally don’t know why this has still been an issue, sadly,” Rosario said. “Just the same way I do not have an answer as to why we’re still under a desegregation order.”

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