School Board members Lisa Larson-Torres (left) and Jennifer McKeever voiced support for a resolution to ban the Confederate battle flag, the Nazi swastika and white nationalist symbols from student dress. Credit: Credit: Josh Mandell, Charlottesville Tomorrow
The Charlottesville School Board on Thursday discussed a proposed resolution that would prohibit students from wearing clothing that depicts the Confederate battle flag.
The resolution also would apply to the Nazi swastika or “images associated with the Ku Klux Klan and other white nationalist groups.”
“We feel that this resolution is grounded in the support of the community and, unfortunately, in the events that took place in this community a year ago,” said School Board Chairman Juandiego Wade.
In the resolution, the School Board argues that these symbols are disruptive to learning in the wake of white supremacist demonstrations that took place in Charlottesville in August 2017.
“Students in our school system witnessed this hatred either directly or through the news media, which caused many of our students to become 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 reads.
“We had three people die in our community because of this hatred,” Wade said. “That speaks volumes for why we are doing this.”
The School Board is scheduled to vote on the resolution at its next regular meeting on Nov. 1.
“We are willing to listen, and modify it … but I think we feel good about this resolution,” Wade said.
School Board members drafted the resolution over the last month with assistance from division staff and representatives from the Hate-Free Schools Coalition of Albemarle County.
The coalition continues to demand a ban on Confederate symbols in the Albemarle County school division’s student dress policy.
A protest held outside the county School Board’s Aug. 30 meeting resulted in multiple arrests.
The Albemarle School Board is waiting to receive guidance from legal counsel before making changes to its dress code. It also is awaiting a draft of a new anti-discrimination policy that is being developed by a committee of high school students.
Charlottesville School Board members thanked the Hate-Free Schools Coalition and others for bringing the resolution before the board in a short period of time.
“I think it is very important for us, as a board, to take a stand on these issues and be clear … about how important it is to protect our students from having to experience that kind of hatred within the walls of our school division,” said School Board member Sherry Kraft.
Superintendent Rosa Atkins compared the resolution with acts of civil disobedience during the civil rights movement.
“‘Separate but equal’ laws … became the norm until there was a group of citizens who stood up and said, although it is the law, it should not be tolerated,” Atkins said. “We find ourselves in that defining moment in which our consciousness must be awakened.”
In the 1965 case Tinker v. Des Moines, the U.S. 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.
Atkins acknowledged the precedent established by Tinker v. Des Moines, but went on to say that many work environments today do not tolerate the symbols included in the city School Board’s resolution.
“We have to move beyond that [precedent] to protect our students, to protect our families and to address this issue of equity,” Atkins said.
Charlottesville’s current student dress code prohibits clothing that “disrupts the learning environment; contains language or images that are vulgar, discriminatory or obscene, promotes illegal or violent conduct… or contains threats such as gang symbols.”
At its annual meeting with state legislators on Friday, the Charlottesville School Board is slated to request Del. David J. Toscano and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds to pursue state-level actions that would provide clarity to school divisions considering bans on hate symbols. The meeting will take place at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center at 11 a.m.

Josh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.