Update: U-32’s Hate Symbol Policy

The previous article regarding U-32’s hate symbol debate can be found here.

After many months, U-32’s hate symbol debate has come to rest. The WCUUSD school board passed the latest version of the policy proposed by students to remove hate symbols from the school community.   

The issue began last fall when a mother of a student of color brought a complaint to U-32. She said her child came home from the first day of school traumatized because a student in their class was wearing a hat with a Confederate flag. 

Seeking Social Justice, a school group that has worked to promote dialogue and education around hate symbols, was approached by the administration to address this issue. Since then, the group has been working in conjunction with the school board to help pass a policy proposal about hate symbols at U-32. 

Meg Allison is the teacher advisor for Seeking Social Justice. She said that last November was the first pitch for the proposal, at which point they proposed to put it under the bullying, harassment, and hazing policy, as they “didn’t know quite where it fit.” 

The school board met twice, through two readings, and decided to put the policy under student self-expression and student distribution of literature. 

The section that was drafted and implemented by the school board reads: 

“It is the sense of the WCUUSD Board of School Directors that symbols, lettering, or insignia associated with organizations that promote hatred or violence or that support white supremacy, such as Confederate symbolism, and the swastika, interfere with the orderly operation of our schools.”

Allison said the policy passed unanimously once this language was added and it is legally binding. They also have a non-binding resolution that they created against hate symbols, which expresses “their belief system about why this is important for them.” 

Allison said there was still a lot of gray area:

 “If one student’s learning is impacted because they don’t feel safe, is that significant for a school to make a change?”

 “‘A significant impact on learning’–Or does it have to be a majority? … it’s never going to be a majority of students impacted by hate symbols.” 

Grey areas aside, Meg feels as though hate symbols should be regarded like any part of the dress code. 

“If you show up with a marijuana leaf on your T-shirt, you’re going to have a conversation with Jody, and you may be asked to remove it,” Allison said.“Other teachers may say ‘Hey, that’s not appropriate for school.’ Parents would be involved.”

 “So I think the same thing could apply to hate symbols. There might be a chance to have a learning opportunity.”

The precedent established by the Supreme Court case Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), defined the boundaries of student expression and first amendment rights. The majority opinion reads:

 “A prohibition against expression of opinion, without any evidence that the rule is necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others, is not permissible under the First and Fourteenth Amendment.“ 

The school’s new policy adheres to this standard. 

The Chronicle asked Jody Emerson what the procedure looks like for a student wearing the Confederate flag under the new ban. 

“If I see them when they walk into the building or come into the atrium,” Emerson said, “I would walk over to them and ask them to have a conversation with me in my office.” 

Once in her office, Jody would inform the student of the policy if they did not already know. She would then have a conversation with the student about why they chose to wear the Confederate flag to school. She would ask other questions about whether they understand the potential impact on other students. 

“Then I would ask them if they have another piece of clothing they could wear instead or if they would like me to find them one,” she said. “If they don’t take it off, they might have to go home or ask someone to come in with clothing so that they can continue through the day, because they can’t wear that here.” 

If Jody is not aware of it and it is brought to her or another administrator’s attention by a student who was impacted, then they must look at the the bullying/harassment section of the policy. 

“Then I would have to do some interviews and see what’s happened,” Emerson said, “and find out from the person that was impacted what the impact was and make a determination there.”

Emerson said that all teachers at school should be able to have a discussion with any student seen wearing the Confederate flag about the potential impact on others in the school community and that all teachers also should ask students to take off the item of clothing the same way that they are able to dress code any student. 

In the case of a repeated offense of the policy, then there will be more follow up work and education with the student to figure out what the next step is. 

“If the same article of clothing came back, and they were asked not to wear it and the family was informed not to bring it to school, then it would be here until the end of the school year.”

“However, we have not had to cross that bridge yet.”

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