CLAYTON, N.C. Johnston County school officials will no longer stop students from wearing the Confederate flag to school after a parent complained that the ban was unconstitutional.
Clayton High School Principal Jerry Smith banned the symbol Oct. 30, when a group of students wore Confederate insignia to school in memory of a friend who died the previous year. Smith told the students the symbol violated the district's dress code, which prohibits clothing that disrupts the classroom.
Some students protested the next day by wearing the emblem again. School officials said the flag was sometimes an incendiary symbol associated with white supremacism, and the students agreed to change clothes.
But Terry Shelton of Clayton, a Civil War re-enactment buff and parent of three Clayton High students, argued that the emblem had not actually disturbed class and that banning an emblem because of its potential for disruption was a violation of free speech.
"I do absolutely agree that that flag has been misused by a lot of white supremacist organizations, who I adamantly denounce," Shelton said. "My point was, you can't preach tolerance if you pick and choose what you will tolerate."
Superintendent James Causby and school board attorney Jimmy Lawrence reviewed the legal precedents last week and agreed with Shelton.
In the 1969 case Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community School District, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students had the right to express their opinions as long as they did not create a substantial disruption of the school environment and that this freedom of expression extended to clothing.
"Based upon that ... we concluded he had some valid points here, and it's better to handle this issue administratively than to make it a big issue," Causby said.
Jennifer Moon, a junior at Clayton High, said she didn't think wearing the Confederate flag was a major issue before the ban was enacted. She said she has seen almost no signs of racial tension at school.
"I don't think that anyone was really offended whenever they wore it," she said.