FLORENCE, S.C. — The family of a high school sophomore is suing school officials over whether the girl can wear clothing with images of the Confederate flag.
Candice Hardwick, 15, said she wanted to wear the Confederate emblem as a way of paying tribute to an ancestor who fought for the South in the Civil War.
But Latta High School officials say the symbol, which many people consider racially charged, is disruptive in school.
The North Carolina-based Southern Legal Resource Center, a Confederate heritage legal advocacy group, filed the suit March 30 in federal court in Florence.
Attorney Vernie Williams, of Columbia, S.C., who represents the school district, said Confederate-themed clothing had been a disruption in the Latta school system in the past.
The written policies for the school and district do not explicitly prohibit wearing Confederate-themed clothing, but they do allow principals to ban any potentially disruptive clothing, Williams said.
Candice's parents stood with her at a news conference outside the courthouse on March 30 and said their daughter was fighting her own fight.
Her mother, Priscilla Hardwick, called the effort a war to protect their Confederate heritage.
"I'm just as proud of her fighting in America for this war as I am of my son fighting in Iraq right now," Priscilla Hardwick said.
Candice said she was forced to change clothes or turn her shirt inside-out at both Latta Middle School and Latta High School. She said she stopped challenging middle school officials after she was suspended twice and threatened with being kicked off the track team.
"I thought that it wasn't fair," she said. "I was being punished for expressing my heritage."
A button that Candice wore March 30 showed her wearing a T-shirt fully covered with an image of the Confederate flag. Other shirts were more subtle. One that the family brought to the courthouse had a photo of the Statehouse with the Confederate flag waving in front. Another shirt, intended to protest the school's decision, said, "Offended by School Censorship of Southern Heritage."
Williams sent the family's attorney a letter last week clarifying that Candice was allowed to wear the protest shirt without the flag image, but that letter did not prevent the lawsuit.
Roger McCredie, executive director of the Southern Legal Resource Center, called the effort to limit display of the Confederate flag a sort of "ethnic cleansing."
"The school's quote-unquote policy regarding these things is extremely broad and vague and subject to whatever interpretation they want to put on it on any given day," he said.
Students have been restricted from wearing clothing displaying Confederate images elsewhere. A student in Kentucky was not allowed to attend the prom because her dress was styled as a Confederate battle flag.
The lawsuit, McCredie said, seeks to require the school district to allow Candice to wear the shirts in question, to clarify the district's policy on restricted clothing, to expunge Candice's discipline record and to provide unspecified monetary damages.