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How Orange County Schools will try to avoid another Confederate flag standoff

Hillsborough resident Katherine Walker asks the Orange County Schools Board of Education Monday, April 24, 2017, to ban the Confederate flag. The school board will discuss limiting public comments at future business meetings to 30 minutes.
Hillsborough resident Katherine Walker asks the Orange County Schools Board of Education Monday, April 24, 2017, to ban the Confederate flag. The school board will discuss limiting public comments at future business meetings to 30 minutes. mschultz@heraldsun.com

After six months of discussion, the Orange County school board has apparently heard enough about the Confederate flag.

The school board will vote tonight (June 26) on limiting public comments at the board’s regular business meetings each month to 30 minutes.

Speakers addressing issues on the meeting agenda will get priority over those who want to speak to the board on other topics.

The move comes after months of speakers asking the board to ban the Confederate flag from student clothing and anywhere on school system property. At some meetings, dozens of speakers have spoken for an hour or more, almost all of them in support of a ban.

After about 50 people spoke at a February meeting, with only one not speaking about the Confederate flag, the school board looked to change the student dress code policy.

The board gave preliminary approval June 12 to new language that instructs principals to deal with clothing that substantially disrupts the education process, including “racially intimidating” apparel.

Orange County Schools spokesman Seth Stephens said the new language is meant to address public concern over incidents involving the Confederate flag on campuses.

The board will hold a final vote on the policy revision at 7 p.m. tonight in A.L. Stanback Middle School’s auditorium.

‘Not how government works’

In April, board Chairman Steve Halkiotis had suggested the ban’s supporters were taking too much time of the board meetings.

“I know they were serious,” Halkiotis said in an interview. “I know there were issues they cared about. I didn’t have to hear it a second, third and fourth time.”

“That’s not how government works. That’s not how the school board works,” he said. “We will go through a very methodical process and then we’ll make a decision.”

Latarndra Strong, founder of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, says she is in favor of the new wording changes even though they don’t mention the Confederate flag directly.

Strong initially spoke to the school board on Feb. 27 after seeing a truck displaying the flag pull into Orange High School’s student parking lot three days in a row.

The coalition has recorded a dozen school incidents its says showed racial intolerance including:

▪ A boy parading a Confederate flag sign at Cedar Ridge High School asking if anyone was offended and when a black student said yes, calling the student “a stupid N-word.”

▪ A boy on two days at Orange High School wearing a T-shirt with a Confederate flag on the back that said “If this offends you, you need a history lesson.”

▪ A student telling an African-American girl wearing a camouflage shirt in the bathroom at Orange High, “If you really want to not be seen just turn out the lights.”

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