A School Divided

A look inside Dexter High School’s policies and opinions surrounding the Confederate flag

By Joe Ramey

“It doesn’t mean anything bad to me. It’s just a flag. A flag that represents the South and the U.S.’s history,” DHS junior Cam Revill said. “I’m not afraid to wear it.”

Students like Revill are allowed to display the Confederate flag however they want. You can see it on t-shirts, backpacks, and the back of cars. Why can they do this? Dexter Community Schools does not have an explicit policy surrounding the advocation for or the displaying of the Confederate flag.

“We do not have a policy,” Principal Kit Moran said. “We do not have a board policy and our administrative guidelines follow [Neola guidelines].”

Neola is a group that creates policies for schools in Michigan, providing school boards a basis from which to work. They strive to create direction and address policy implications and mandates for a climate that changes often in regards to law.

“Rarely does our school board sit down and write new policy,” Moran said.  “We work through Neola.”

Stated in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights is the right to freedom of speech. This right includes freedom to express one’s opinion through speech, symbols, and protest. When talk of a policy regarding a specific symbol is brought up, impeding rights then become a conflict.

Neola’s guidelines surrounding the expression of symbols follow the decision in the Supreme Court case of Tinker vs. Des Moines. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “school officials [cannot] censor student speech unless it disrupt[s] the educational process.”

“Just like anything we do, we take into account the question, ‘Does it cause a disruption?’” Moran said.

For a policy to be implemented at DHS, the display of the Confederate flag would have to cause a significant disruption to the educational process, such as those that prevent class from carrying on as usual to physical conflict.

Even if a policy were instituted, Moran said, it creates the potential for even more conflict over what other symbols should be banned for causing disruptions, only perpetuating an already sensitive topic.

“If we go after that, what else do you go after?” Moran said. “I think we could be asking for trouble.”

Some say it signifies pride in one’s country. Our country.

The Confederate flag was used for the commemoration of Confederate veterans and continues to represent the unique and flourishing culture of the South.

However, southern pride is not the only history synonymous with the flag.

In the 1860s, the Confederate States of America used the flag as a battle flag during the Civil War. Despite the fact the Civil War was fought primarily over slavery, the flag did not have many racist and segregationist connotations until the KKK began to use it in the early 1900s as a tool to promote white supremacy and a terror campaign against African Americans. The segregationist Dixiecrat party also used it as their primary symbol in the late 1940s.

While some still see it as a symbol of the South, its pride, and the veterans of the Confederacy, current events such as the church shooting two years ago in Charleston, South Carolina, and the conflicting protests in August in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a woman was killed have brought that view into question.

Is the Confederate flag synonymous with racism and slavery, or should it be thought of as an expression of southern pride?

Even though the flag doesn’t cause major disruptions at DHS, students have strong opinions about it.

“It definitely means heritage to me,” junior Josh Mason said. “I don’t think people should view it as a racist symbol.”

Revill added: “I wear it because it’s part of our history. It’s part of my history. My dad’s side of the family is all from Kentucky. With that, it’s for the history. I don’t see a problem with it. It’s not hurting anyone.”

Dexter’s student body does include people with southern ties, but this still does not appease the students who view it solely as a symbol of rightful oppression.

“It’s really disrespectful,” senior Skylar Waddington said. “There’s always going to be a person who wears it and starts political conversation. It could offend people and be taken as a race thing. I’ve seen it happen.”

Senior Marin Waddington added: “They’re contradicting themselves by displaying it. It represents divisions of America, and it represents the Confederate side of the Civil War. It represents slavery.”

Other students feel students who display of the flag at school are just teenagers trying to stand out in society and be different from the rest of the crowd.

“I think [the kids who display it] are trying to make a statement,” junior Yaw Oduro said. “Putting the flag’s meaning aside, I think kids are wearing it to say something on their own. They do it to be cool and to spark something.”

Dexter’s demographics express staggering one-sided statistics. In a 2015 census proctored by the U.S. Census Bureau, 96.6 percent of the city’s 6,299 residents identified as being white, while only 1.2 percent identified being partially or completely African American.

“I think people find it easier to say stuff like that when we are all white,” Marin Waddington said. “They probably think they won’t get nearly as much hate for it. People aren’t as scared. They aren’t worried about offending people. People are doing it to be provocative and get a rise out of people.”