The Orange County Schools Board of Education, after months of controversy over displaying the Confederate flag on school campuses, Monday night gave preliminary approval to a policy banning “racially intimidating” clothing and accessories.
The board voted in favor of changing the Orange County Public School Dress Code – Policy Code: 4316 – by inserting new language into the policy. It must give final approval on a second reading.
The vote was a “First Reading” of the proposed policy change. A “Second Reading” and a second approving vote is required for the proposed change to become policy. The second vote is scheduled for the board's next meeting on June 26.
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The preliminary vote approved the insertion of the following paragraph:
“Clothing and accessories are not to substantially disrupt the education process. Students are not to wear clothing, buttons, patches, jewelry or any other items with words, phrases, symbols, pictures or signs that are indecent, profane, or racially intimidating.”
A key phrase within the inserted two sentences is “racially intimidating
Orange County Schools spokesman Seth Stephens, said that the insertion of the new language into the policy was meant to directly address the large public concern over incidents of the Confederate flag on campuses.
Stephens said the new language gave individual school principles further grounds to address – discipline – violations of “racially intimidating” clothing.
The addition to the policy does not address Confederate flags being displayed in other ways – those that do not have to do with items of clothing.
Issues revolving around the acceptability of the Confederate Flag being flown, donned and seen on Orange County Schools grounds gained traction before the board back in February.
In early February, The Northern Orange County NAACP asked the school board to ban the Confederate flag at one of its meetings. It was the second time the NAACP chapter made the request.
Latarndra Strong, founder of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, first wrote to school leaders after seeing a truck with a Confederate flag on it pull into the student parking lot at Orange High School, her daughter’s school, three days in a row.
Strong spoke before the board, along with dozens of others in accord with her opposition to Confederate flags on Orange County Schools campuses, at a Feb. 27 school board meeting.
In the interim members of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition have repeatedly pushed the board to take action in the form of a vote that would influence its stance on the Confederate Flag on school campuses.
Prior to the vote the board heard much public comment condemning the Confederate Flag.
Solomon Gibson expressed his opinion that the Confederate Flag is “America’s swastika.”
Where around a dozen commentators denounced the Confederate Flag, only one speaker, James Ward, supported the symbol's use. Ward said because the “memory and honor” of his ancestors' flag was under question, he felt “duty bound” to defend his ancestors' emblem.
The Monday night vote does not change any rule, stance or school ordinance about Confederate flags being flown or displayed on student vehicles parked in Orange County schools parking lots.
But, Strong considers the preliminary vote a positive sign that a second, policy confirming vote will indeed pass. That, in Strong's mind, would be an “enormous” victory.
Despite that the new inserted language does not directly mention the Confederate Flag, Strong says, it takes away principles' wiggle room in deciding what is considered racially intimidating.
“It is not going to be left up to the principle. So, with this language – 'racially intimidating,' period – it is not a matter of a principle a seeing it as racially intimidating 'enough.' It is a matter of, just seeing the flag 'alone' is racially intimating,” Strong said.
“I think originally at our schools, they weren't even seeing the Confederate Flag as being racially divisive,” Strong said. “So with this new language – and all the testimony over a period of time identifying the Confederate Flag as racial harassment – this gives us the support we need to get principles to enforce it.”