CHARLESTON, SC – When Charleston County students returned home from the first day of school yesterday, they had a new copy of the student Code of Conduct in their book bags. A page inserted inside explained a specific change to the district’s dress code.
The letter reads: “In light of a year marred with racially divisive and tragic events, the Charleston County School District has decided to prohibit students from wearing on campus clothing, jewelry or other apparel bearing the Confederate flag. Likewise, students who drive to school in a vehicle bearing a Confederate flag or a prominent image of the Confederate flag, will be asked to remove the image.”
Some people say this is a positive change, commenting on News 2’s Facebook page that this is a “wise decision” and the “right course of action”. Others argue this isn’t constitutional and a violation of students’ First Amendment rights to free speech.
News 2 spoke to a First Amendment rights expert today who says freedom of speech can be limited in schools if it poses a distraction.
Attorney Dwayne Green says, “So in the terms of the Confederate flag, if a school district determines that’s a disruptive symbol on school grounds, they have the right to ban that. Same thing with gang symbols, clothes that might have curse words or racial epithets, they can do that.”
He says it has nothing to do with the intention of the wearer, but the perception by other students.
Green says, “A good example is in Colorado Springs, some gangs were using rosary beads as something they wore. And that’s usually a religious symbol. The school district in Colorado said we’re going to ban that if we find it’s going to incite violence or become a disruptive presence.”
He adds students have the right to wear or display whatever symbol they want as soon as they step off school grounds.
Green says, “They can wear whatever they want to wear. But other students are entitled to at least, what we call a safe haven, where they can concentrate on school work and not have to be distracted by what they may see as a racially offensive symbol.”
News 2 took a closer look at Berkeley and Dorchester County’s dress code policies and while neither one specifically references the Confederate flag, they do have a disclaimer “reserving the right to ban any clothing that may lead to disruption or interference with the school environment”.
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