If Carroll County Public Schools takes steps to ban Confederate flag imagery, it would be a step further than that of many other school systems in the state.
This discussion comes after CCPS Superintendent Stephen Guthrie and the Board of Education addressed the topic at a Jan. 10 board meeting, and after a number of individuals spoke during public comment, asking the school system to ban the symbol.
The Board of Education came to a consensus at the meeting to have the school system’s legal team look into whether CCPS can legally ban what is commonly referred to as the Confederate flag — which consists of white stars on a blue X-shaped cross over a red backdrop and is technically the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, not the national flag of the Confederacy — as a part of the dress code.
Guthrie reiterated this week that while the school system is looking into parameters of how it could ban the flag, no decision has been made by the board.
“What we have done is simply asked for the legal analysis,” Guthrie said, adding that they need a legal framework to go by as the conversation continues.
Guthrie said when Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina who is now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capital after Dylann Roof, who had posed with Confederate imagery on his website promoting white supremacy, shot and killed nine African-Americans in a historic black church in the state, it opened the opportunity to look at student dress code.
He spoke with staff, and the school’s attorney, but at the time CCPS felt it could not legally ban the Confederate flag in the dress code, and so imagery of the flag fell under the “disruption rule,” Guthrie said. CCPS updated the code in summer 2015, shortly after the shooting. But, Guthrie said, the disruption rule is a “fairly high threshold,” which is why they included symbols of hate and intolerance in the 2015 change.
“I wanted to send a strong signal that symbols of hate would not be allowed in our schools,” he added.
While CCPS hasn’t had any “major issues or incidents” in regard to the flag, it’s been a topic of conversation, as Guthrie said he’s continued to get emails asking for the policy to be re-evaluated or changed.
After a woman died this past summer in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a car rammed into a crowd of protesters at a white supremacist rally, which is believed to be the “largest group of white nationalists to come together in a decade — including neo-Nazis, skinheads, members of the Ku Klux Klan,” according to The Baltimore Sun, Guthrie said there was again a move to remove statues and other symbols.
“It was something that more recently, more parents starting writing me and saying, ‘Can we do this now?’ ” he added.
This type of policy is decided on a system-by-system basis, William Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said via email, adding that there are no state statutes or regulations regarding dress codes.
“This is strictly a local issue,” he said.
Policies around the state
Carroll’s current policy states that clothing cannot convey advertisements for condoms or other birth control devices, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, or weapons stated or implied; cannot convey symbols or messages generally accepted to promote intolerance, hate, racial slurs or sexual harassment; and cannot convey establishments or products whose names can be directly interpreted or construed as carrying a “double meaning” involving sexual innuendo, gang symbols or sexual activity.
If Carroll County Public Schools were to specifically ban the Confederate flag, they would be one of a few school systems in the country that has, breaking the mold from that of surrounding jurisdictions.
Frederick County Public Schools, Howard County Public Schools, Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore County Public Schools and Montgomery County Public Schools don’t specifically address the Confederate flag in their dress codes, though Howard County perhaps comes the closet. Language for all the school systems are similar to that of Carroll County’s current regulations.
Howard County’s policy addresses what can interfere with the “educational mission” of the schools, is disruptive to the school environment or that could endanger the health or safety of that student or others during school hours and school activities a bit further than others.
According to the policy, items that cause or are likely to cause a substantial or material disruption to school activities or the orderly operation of the school may include buttons, display bands, armbands, flags, decals or other badges of symbolic expression.
Attire also cannot depict profanity, obscenity or the use of weapons or violence; promote the use of tobacco, drugs, alcohol or other illegal or harmful products; promote, implies or contains sexually suggestive messages; depict gang affiliation; contain language or symbols that demean an identifiable person or group or infringe on the rights of others; or contain rude, disrespectful or discourteous expressions inconsistent with civil discourse and behavior, according to the policy.
Howard County Public Schools did not respond to request for comment by 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Bob Mosier, chief communications officer with Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said that school system’s policy doesn’t specifically address the Confederate flag, though he said there aren’t often many problems stemming from students wearing it.
“Our dress code does address articles of clothing that can be deemed offensive or create a disruption in a school,” he said. “It’s not been an issue for us.”
“Clothes that create a disruptive environment or cause a health or safety hazard are not appropriate and not acceptable at school,” it continues.
Per the policy, this includes attire that shows profanity, obscenity, violence or symbols of hate; cannot promote alcohol, tobacco or drugs; and cannot promote gang colors or gang-related signs.
Michael Doerrer, director of communications for Frederick County Public Schools, said the school system doesn’t regularly deal with the problem of students wearing Confederate flags, though it “comes up every once in a while,” he said.
If it is an issue, it’s handled on a case-by-case basis by the principals. “They know their school best, they know their school climate best,” he said.
Students in Frederick County schools can be asked to change if there is a disruption to the education process, he added.
“The regulations that relate to this policy are designed to encourage young people to dress in a manner that displays reasonableness of fashion, decency, and refrains from extremes,” according to the policy.
Students cannot wear clothing and accessories bearing obscene, suggestive, alcohol, tobacco or drug related slogans or symbols, according to the policy. School principals also may ban any item of dress that is considered to be linked to gang activity, disruptive to the educational environment, unsafe for the student or others or in violation of school policy, according to the policy.
Students cannot wear attire that is disruptive, promotes illegal or harmful activities or that could endanger the health and safety of the student or other students, according to the policy.
This includes, but is not limited to attire that: depicts messages that are lewd, vulgar, obscene, plainly offensive, violent, sexually explicit or that reference items that are illegal in general or illegal specifically for underage students; promotes use of tobacco, drugs, alcohol or other illegal or harmful products; contains sexually suggestive messages; depicts gang affiliation; causes or is likely to cause a substantial or material disruption to school activities or the orderly and safe operation of the school or at school-sponsored activities; or contains rude, disrespectful or discourteous expressions inconsistent with “civil discourse and behavior,” according to the policy.
Baltimore County Public Schools did not respond to request for comment by 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Montgomery County Public Schools, which also did not return request for comment Tuesday, does not specifically address the flag in its code, but states students have a “responsibility to be dressed and groomed for school, in accordance with the community standards for dress and grooming addressed by the local school discipline policy.”
Students cannot be disciplined for their “style of dress or grooming,” unless it is likely to cause disruption to school activities; causes a disruption to the educational environment; endangers health or safety; fails to meet a reasonable requirement of a course or activity; is associated with gangs; is lewd, vulgar, obscene, revealing or of a sexual nature; or promotes the use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs, according to the policy.
Guthrie said people have jumped ahead and think the flag is already banned, or a decision has been made, though that’s not the case.
CCPS is getting a legal framework, and then the school board will choose a direction forward, he said. The school system does not want to go in any direction though, Guthrie added, until it knows the legal parameters.
If the school system’s legal guidance does think the flag can be banned, then the school system has guidelines to work with if it wants to move forward. If the legal team does not think CCPS can move forward, then it remains where it is now, he said.
But if it does move forward, Guthrie said, his direction would be to bring the issue to the Student Dress Code Committee, and have it come back with a recommendation to the school board. Guthrie also said they are looking into whether the school has control over what is on vehicles, like stickers and flags, when they are parked on school property.
Guthrie said some have brought concerns about banning the flag, asking what could be banned next.
“Somebody finding something that somebody else wears offensive is not the threshold,” he said, adding that it is about what is and what isn’t considered a symbol of hate or violence.
“We can limit within the school setting symbols which we find promote illegal activities or promote hate and violence,” Guthrie continued. “It is not a free speech issue.”