April 14, 2006

Ithaca School District Bans Confederate Flag

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Last week the Ithaca City School District banned the public display of the Confederate flag on items such as clothing, jackets, book bags, artwork and binders.

“The Confederate flag has historical significance and is something that causes disruption in class,” said Superintendent Judith Pastel. “We want students and faculty to focus on learning.”

Pastel said that the number of students wearing the flag was not significant, but it does not take a significant number of students to cause disruption in school.

Some students wore the flag maliciously, intending to offend others. Other students wore it because of the movie the Dukes of Hazzard.

“People in the adult and student community who are not direct targets of the Confederate flag, who are not African-American, felt uncomfortable because the flag is a general signal of ill will,” said Ithaca High School Principal Joseph Wilson.

Mitch Fagen ’07, president of the Cornell Democrats, said in an e-mail that he “wouldn’t want to see Confederate flags in a school any more than [he would] want to see a Nazi flag,” and that those flags are “properly considered symbols of racial injustice and hatred.”

Numerous disruptive instances in Ithaca High School and other Ithaca city schools over the past few years necessitated the ban.

The decision was a collective one among Ithaca School District employees. “It was not a one-person decision, and it is a misrepresentation to say it was,” Wilson said.

“Consultation on what to do about the Confederate flag went on among staff members, administration, the Ithaca High School leadership team [academic department leaders], the superintendent and the assistant superintendent,” Wilson said.

After these consultations, the issue went to the district’s lawyers, who concluded that the district could go ahead in its decision to ban the flag.

The formal process to ban the displaying of the Confederate flag began as early as mid-to-late September and continued until Ithaca High School administration distributed a letter to parents and students announcing the decision.

The ban does not infringe on students’ First Amendment rights due to the Education Law.

This law intersects with the First Amendment when something causes a disruption in class.

The power to decide the disruption’s allowance comes down on the side of the administration, Pastel said.

Wilson said that there has been little reaction among the parent community. The few who have spoken to him say the ban is a good idea. Staff members who have spoken to him on the subject have responded positively as well.

This issue parallels issues with gangs and gang attire in Ithaca High School, according to Pastel.

Archived article by Jessica DiNapoli
Sun Staff Writer