Student starts petition to ban confederate flag in Orange County Schools
UNC first-year Mariah Warner has started a petition urging the Orange County Schools Board of Education to ban the confederate flag in schools.
“I started a petition at UNC for the UNC students and faculty to sign to show the school board that there is advocacy since we’re the local college here in town,” Warner said.
Warner attended a two-day workshop put on by the Organization Against Racism NC. There she got to know Latarndra Strong, a mother of a student in the Orange County school system. Strong had noticed a confederate flag hanging from a student’s truck as she was dropping her daughter off at high school one morning.
“She approached the school about this and they said they couldn’t do anything, so then she brought it to the school board during public comment,” Warner said.
Stephen Halkiotis, chairperson of the Orange County Schools Board of Education, said the incident happened two years ago, and the school's principal handled the situation and followed the disruption principles based on free speech rights for students.
Warner said Strong received some support at the meeting, but the school board rejected the idea of banning the flag.
“That really outraged a lot of people in the community because they understand that it’s a hate symbol,” Warner said. “From my understanding, there have been more students — now that they know this is a hate symbol and it aggravates other minority students — you see them wearing it more, putting it on the back of their trucks, wearing it on their t-shirts. There were even a couple of students who were sitting down in the lunch room and got in a circle and started pulling out confederate flags and when they got taken away they started pulling out more.”
Warner said the school board has changed the time of meetings, making it difficult for people to sign up to speak — something you have to do before the meeting begins. She also said at another meeting they only allowed one person in at a time.
The Northern Orange County NAACP has also called for Orange County Schools to ban the use of Confederate flags.
“The flag is a racial inflammatory symbol which is undeniably rooted in slavery and racism,” said Patricia Clayton, president of the Northern Orange County NAACP. “Given Orange County Schools is committed to serve all the students in the district, they should not allow the confederate flag on its campus.”
Halkiotis said the board has set up an Equity Task Force to look into symbols and symbolism including the confederate flag, swastikas and a host of other symbols that provoke fear and intimidation in people.
The Equity Task Force includes parents, residents from the community, a member of the faith community and even Latarndra Strong, the parent who initially brought the issue to the school board.
“The committee is just a wonderful assortment of people that represent all walks of life,” Halkiotis said.
Halkiotis said that just because a group of people come before the board and demand something does not mean that something will immediately happen — that’s not the way an elected board works.
“We get caught in the world of policies, we get caught in the world of it takes time to get things done and reviewed,” Halkiotis said. “People today want immediate action, and I’m not sure people fully understand the whole policy process that we follow and are expected to follow by state law.”
Warner said it has been hard to spread awareness for the petition, but little by little they are. She said Strong, who is the president of the Hate-Free School Coalition, also started a petition for the whole community to sign that garnered over a thousand signatures. Warner said the coalition created a string of paper dolls representing each person who signed the petition and held it up at the school board meeting on April 24.
“They’re being creative, they’re being progressive, they’re not stopping,” Warner said. “It’s very empowering to keep going especially when you’re a student and you have so much going on.”
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