Orange County

More criticism, and a thank you, in push to ban Confederate flag in Orange County Schools

The Orange County school board heard more criticism — and something new, thank you — this week in a community group’s five-month push to ban the Confederate flag from student clothing and school grounds.

The Board of Education heard from about a dozen speakers at Gravelly Hill Middle School in Efland on Monday.

Students, parents and others criticized the board for not acting against a flag that Noah Barger said advocates “a return to a time when the order of the day was black people being subservient” and that Heather Ahn-Redding called “a distortion of history that denies the heritage and experience of enslaved men, women and children who essentially built the South.”

But two speakers also thanked the board for agreeing to seek expert opinions, which it will do during a work session from 1 to 4 p.m. May 31 at Gravelly Hill Middle School.

Members will discuss the student dress code, possible policy revisions and arguments surrounding the Confederate battle flag at the meeting, school district spokesman Seth Stephens said.

On Tuesday, board Chair Steve Halkiotis said he is optimistic “something positive” will come out of the controversy.

“I don’t want to go out and make some prognosis,” the former Orange High School principal said. “I’ve heard these folks loud and clear. They know we can’t stamp out racism, but we can do some things to protect people from it.”

Halkiotis wouldn’t say whether he or a majority of the seven-member board might support banning the flag in the Orange County Schools.

“I think we’re living in extremely dangerous times,” he said. “Whatever we can do to make our schools safer, I’m all for that. ... You gotta do what you gotta do to make things right for people.”

The board will hear from legal experts May 31 including Irving Joyner, a law professor at N.C. Central University, and Chris Brook, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, as well as review discipline data related to bullying and intimidation.

To give them a head start, the Hate-Free Schools Coalition gave the school board a list of incidents the group said had happened so far in 2017.

The dozen incidents included:

▪  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.”

“I already feel outnumbered,” a ninth grader who gave his name as Edward D-E told the school board. “I’m a black male living in America at a time when tensions are high politically and racially. I was warned I might be called the N-word, and that already happened on an Orange County school bus and on my own driveway.

“My parents warned me I would have to stand up and speak out against bullies and people in power positions,” he continued. “I’m doing that right now, Remember me when you talk about why this flag must be removed.”

The board did not respond to the speakers, which is routine for public comments received at board meetings.

In addition to the board’s upcoming work session, the Orange County Human Relations Commission and the Hate Free Schools Coalition will hold a Town Hall Meeting, “A Conversation about the Confederate Flag in Orange County Schools,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 8, at the Whitted Building, 300 W. Tryon St., Hillsborough.

Mark Schultz: 919-829-8950;

Instagram: mark_schultz_nando