Confederate imagery could be explicitly banned in the Albemarle County student dress code following renewed calls from the School Board and community members to revisit the issue.
Thecounty School Board will review changes to the dress code during Thursday’s meeting, according to the agenda. The meeting will be held virtually and starts at 6:30 p.m. Board members said last month that they wanted to ban the Confederate flag from in dress code after national protests about policing in America and racism that have toppled Confederate statutes.
The Hate-Free Schools Coalition of Albemarle has pushed for a ban for more than two years.
The dress code changes are part of the School Board’s consent agenda and listed for information. Historically, the board votes on an information item at its following meeting.
The School Board received hundreds of emails from the community about removing school resource officers, according to records obtained by The Daily Progress via an open-records request, and several people also advocated for changing the dress code.
“Our Black and Brown students deserve a school that is police- and hate-free,” Gretchen Martinet wrote to the School Board. “We can work toward that goal by removing intimidating police officers and by banning Confederate imagery from entering the schools. The time for action, instead of more studies, is long overdue and I encourage it from you now.”
On Thursday, the School Board will review a resolution directing division staff to develop protocols that could be implemented in lieu of the current school resource officer program with recommendations due no later than Aug. 13. The resolution was discussed at the board’s June 26 retreat.
A teaching assistant at Western Albemarle High School wrote in an email to the board that they would be ignoring Black and brown community members if they do not ban Confederate and white nationalist imagery and remove the officers.
“Ignoring these voices would not only be antithetical to the responsibility you have to the Albemarle County community, but you would be structurally, systematically and explicitly establishing Albemarle County Public Schools as a racist institution,” wrote Gavin Layman, the teaching assistant.
Since March 2019, county students have not been allowed to wear items with Confederate imagery or lettering or insignias of organizations or groups associated with white supremacy, racial hatred or violence after schools Superintendent Matt Haas reinterpreted the division’s dress code and issued new guidelines.
Such images were disruptive to the school environment, he said. The School Board had discussed an outright ban in the dress code for months before Haas’ decision and was split on the issue, primarily because of concerns that the board could be sued. Since then, two new members have joined the board.
Board member David Oberg said at the board’s June 11 meeting that he thinks they need an up or down vote on the dress code ban.
“I appreciate everything that Dr. Haas has done,” he said. “I think that the modifications we’ve done to the dress code have been very helpful. But when the Marine Corps and NASCAR are saying that these are hate symbols and they’re not acceptable, I cannot conceive of the 4th Circuit [Court of Appeals] telling us we can’t say that they’re not allowed.”
In 2003, the county schools lost a $150,000 lawsuit to a sixth-grader who was told he couldn’t wear a National Rifle Association shirt that had silhouettes of men pointing guns across the NRA logo. After an initial verdict in the school district’s favor, the student appealed to the 4th Circuit and won.
“I said a year and a half ago that I really don’t think the courts would side against us on that,” Oberg said. “I think after the past year, I’m more firmly in that opinion, and I would like to make the 4th Circuit rule against me on that.”
The Charlottesville School Board adopted a resolution in October 2018 to ban students from wearing clothing bearing the Confederate flag, Nazi swastika or other symbols associated with racial hatred and violence.
The amended dress code would cover student dress and displays and add the following sentence:
“Clothing and displays that demean or promote harassment or hatred toward an identifiable person or group based on race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, or disability, including, but not limited to, Confederate imagery and other symbols of hate and oppression, such as the swastika, cause substantial disruption to the educational environment and, therefore, are prohibited.”
Students not complying with the policy would be asked to cover the clothing, remove or cover the display, change clothes or go home, according to the proposed policy.
When Haas’ dress code guidelines went into effect, a student was sent home for wearing a hat bearing a Confederate insignia.
Since then, division staff said there have been minimal incidents, which were handled promptly by working with the student and parent.
“And so since our superintendent has put that policy in place, it’s been a year, and it is a different climate,” board member Katrina Callsen said at the June 11 meeting. “And I’m not even looking at the past. People are allowed to change their minds. They are allowed to grow, and we’re in a growing situation. I think it’s worth revisiting a different conversation.”