This isn’t the first time North Carolina school districts have banned Confederate symbols: The Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Boards have also moved to include similar changes to their dress codes.
Mike Lee, chairperson of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education, said the board saw Orange County’s push to reform their dress code, which included anything supporting hate movements in light of the events at Charlottesville. He said the board wanted to make sure their policy also specifically addressed these issues.
Lee said school districts need to define symbols, like the Confederate flag, as harmful in order to protect their students. He said imagery and language can be up for interpretation.
“You might not see that as historically hateful or intimidating," Lee said. "But the meaning behind it, they do have a historical meaning of hatred and can cause individuals to feel intimidated by you displaying it."
He said the board is focused on students’ safety.
“I hope every single school district around would take the steps to show that our schools offer safety and inclusiveness no matter where you are or no matter what your school or district looks like,” he said. “Every child should feel safe in that school, and every teacher or administrator or parent should feel safe in that school.”
Lee said he received both positive and negative feedback. Some parents in support have expressed how happy they are with how quickly the school board worked to resolve this issue. Some of his critics said this opens up the school to being able to ban anything that offends any individual student.
Latarndra Strong, who led the movement for similar policy changes in Orange County Schools and founded the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, said she was inspired by her kids.
“My kids would go to school and see the Confederate flag, and then we’d have these discussions at home,” Strong said. “What I found out was that it left them not knowing if the people that carried the Confederate flag, that was a person who was just from the South and that was Southern pride or something more sinister.”
Strong said that if these actions were creating conversations at home, this could potentially be affecting students in school. She said this was an issue the school board needed to be aware of and needed to respond to.
“People-of-color parents at the school had really lost a lot of trust in the school system, that they had grievances that they weren’t airing because they were used to the school system just dismissing their concerns," she said. "We found that teachers who were supportive of the bans didn’t feel they could speak out to the school.”
Strong said a young waitress recognized her from an interview on her work against racism within the school system and thanked her for her hard work in the area. The waitress told Strong of an incident where a fellow student, wearing a Confederate flag, told her he had 13 knots for her.
“I actually didn’t know what that meant, so I said 'What does that mean? 13 knots?' Strong said. "She said ‘He told me he had a noose for me.’”
Strong said the student told her that when she protested he called her a “worthless n-----." The student didn’t tell her parents, counselor, teacher or administrator.
Strong said the work to ban the Confederate flag in schools has nothing to do with the Civil War.
"It has everything to do with this new resurgence of white power and white superiority that is held by the alt-right and that is catching on in large numbers," she said. "I think that this sort of thing is happening because people keep saying we just gotta get over it."