The Charlottesville School Board on Thursday voted unanimously to prohibit students from wearing clothing with Confederate imagery.
The resolution also applies to “the Nazi swastika or … images and language associated with the Ku Klux Klan and other white nationalist groups.”
“This is the first step,” School Board Chairman Juandiego Wade said. “We are going to continue to work on this.”
The resolution cites the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 11-12, 2017 as the reason for the ban.
According to the resolution, students who witnessed the demonstration “[became] fearful for their safety, even to the point of causing some students to hide in closets due to the lingering fear of physical harm.”
The resolution states that Confederate and white nationalist imagery will continue to create a substantial disruption in the city’s schools because of the events.
In the 1965 case Tinker v. Des Moines, the Supreme Court ruled that public-school students are protected by the First Amendment unless their speech or expression would cause a substantive disruption to the learning environment.
School Board members drafted the resolution this fall with assistance from division staff and representatives from the Hate-Free Schools Coalition of Albemarle County.
Hate-Free Schools representatives also were invited to the School Board’s annual October meeting with state legislators to discuss potential state-level actions to support the resolution.
Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, suggested asking the state Attorney General’s Office for direction around the application of the current legislation.
Mary McIntyre, an Albemarle County teacher and a member of Hate-Free Schools Coalition who spoke as a private citizen, thanked the Charlottesville School Board for its resolution but urged them to pursue further legislation on the issue.
“The resolution is strongly worded, and it is powerful. But I can’t help but question if it has any legal teeth,” McIntyre said. “Show us that you are serious by making true, concrete, legally binding changes that will affect our children and the whole community.”
School Board member Sherry Kraft said that she and other members of the board asked about the legal force of a resolution in a webinar on school dress code issues.
“It actually made me feel better about our resolution,” Kraft said. “When we asked the question about what a resolution means, the answer that we got was that, in legal terms, it is basically the same [as a law]. It is viewed as enforceable.”
Hate-Free Schools continues to demand a ban on Confederate symbols in the Albemarle County school division’s student dress policy.
Four people who were arrested during a protest at an Albemarle School Board meeting in August were found guilty of misdemeanor charges Tuesday.
Other public comments at Thursday’s meeting addressed a recent article by the New York Times and ProPublica that investigated the achievement gap between Charlottesville’s black students and their white peers. The school division held a forum on equity on Oct. 23 in response to the article.
Diane McNeal, chairwoman of the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP’s education committee, said that racial inequality has been present in the area’s schools throughout history.
“If anyone is surprised by the data and information referenced in this article, they are not paying attention,” McNeal said. “The only way to gain that equality is to demand it of ourselves and others.”
Superintendent Rosa Atkins said she did not want Charlottesville to lose sight of what its black students have accomplished.
“Our black students have achieved and are graduating from high school in higher numbers than they have ever graduated,” Atkins said. “We have achieved a lot, but it does not mean that gap between white and black students has gone away.”
“The more you talk about [students] from a negative standpoint, the more they dig their heels in,” School Board member Leah Puryear said. “If you are continually told that you are nothing, and that you will never be anything, why will you try?”
Cole Fairchild, a student representative on the School Board, criticized other members of the board for saying that the Charlottesville community as a whole had to take responsibility for student achievement gaps.
“The data is concerning to start off with, but the response is slightly concerning to me, too,” Fairchild said. “It’s the job of the school system to serve the students.”
Charlottesville City Schools plans to hold a forum for teachers during its division-wide professional development day on Friday. Another community forum is scheduled for Nov. 27.