Michelle Laws, executive director of the North Carolina NAACP, also spoke at the meeting.
"The irony of American history is the tendency of good white Americans to presume racial innocence," Laws said, quoting anti-racism activist Tim Wise.
Laws said she is skeptical of those who claim the students in the photo just made a mistake due to their youth.
"I did a lot of foolish
things when I was growing up," she said. "But I can honestly say that the things I did did not harm anyone other than myself."
Laws said she believes the district's administration needs to take specific action to address racial issues in CHCCS.
"The Confederate flag — there’s
nothing cute about it," she said. "And how dare some of you
try to whitewash it and not deal with this incident seriously?"
But some at the meeting were there to defend the students in question. Ronald Creatore, the father of one of the students in the photo, took to the podium to offer a rebuttal against the arguments of some of the other speakers.
He held up a textbook that he said was the one used in the Civil War history class that took the field trip. An image of the Confederate flag appears three times in the book, he said.
It does not make sense that people would become upset over the photo but not over the images in the school-sanctioned book, Creatore said.
“I presume that the
school paid for this book and distributed it to students,” he said.
Creatore said he believes members of the community are making more out of the issue than they should and are taking advantage of national racial tensions resulting from recent protests in Baltimore, Md.
"I think the timeliness is suspicious," he said.
East Chapel Hill High School senior Paige Covington said although she doesn't think the comment on the photo is defendable, she doesn't believe the girls in the picture should be condemned.
"The media has taken (the photo) and twisted it," she said. "I really hope we can put at least those girls out of the limelight."
Dionne McLaughlin, a CHCCS parent and former Chapel Hill High School administrator, said she believes the district's administration must take action on specific instances of racial injustice in the schools.
She said students should not have to deal with these kinds of issues alone.
"Inaction is not an option," she said. "If we simply shrug our shoulders and hide behind the first amendment, what essentially happens is you create an environment where students feel like they have to take action themselves."
Superintendent Tom Forcella responded to the public comments by saying that the school district would work to figure out how to address the Instagram incident and others like it.
"You need to know that as an administration we do take this issue very seriously, and we have viewed it in a variety of ways," he said. "We do need to be more intentional in our schools regarding those conversations about race."
Carrboro High School senior Taliana Tudryn said it is difficult to be a student of color in CHCCS, and white teachers and administrators should be more thorough in addressing problems that specifically effect these students.
"We struggle with Ferguson and Baltimore and Durham and Mike Brown and Freddie Gray and Eric Garner alone or in small groups," she said. “Then we come back into the classroom, and our white peers, our teachers, our administrators are silent."
Although Chapel Hill is considered a liberal and progressive community, Tudryn said racism is very much alive in the area. And the Instagram photo is only one example of its scope.
“I understand, and have for a long time, that there is a disease in our schools — a disease many people thought Chapel Hill was immune to."