Racial Tension at BHS

Brent Finnegan -- November 11th, 2009

There’s a story in today’s DNR about the ongoing confederate flag kerfuffle/racial riot shockwaves at my alma mater, Broadway High. Jenny Jones reports that at last night’s school board meeting, two parents (flanked by a dozen supporters) raised the issues of dress code and student safety.

[Parent Keenan] Moore said students continue to walk around the high school displaying what he calls symbols and words of hate, and he doesn’t think school officials have done enough to address the situation.

He added that some of the students displaying the items continue to congregate in an area outside the school known as “Redneck Hill,” making some minority students feel uneasy.

“Don’t tell me this is about heritage and not hate,” said Moore. “I’m asking you … to do something about the unsafe environment at Broadway High School.”

When I graduated from BHS in the late 90s, there were so few minority students, as to be almost invisible to my group of friends and me. And there was certainly no shortage of confederate flags and other “southern sentiments” on T-shirts in the halls and in the parking lot. But times have changed, and there are more Hispanic and other minority students there now than there were more than a decade ago.

110 Responses to “Racial Tension at BHS”

  1. Lowell Fulk says:

    Oh gee thanks Joe for bringing that to people’s attention, now I can see the “Cover the Breast Constitutional Amendment Coalition” kicking off any moment now. Valley Taliban rejoice, you have just been given your new cause!

  2. Renee says:

    So does anyone have any accurate information about what has been done or what will be done by the administration of the high school to address this issue? What is the official “timeline” so far of school response? Does anyone on this site teach there? Did they instruct the teachers to have discussions in class or anything?

    Just curious what actions have been taken by the school.

  3. Jamie Smith says:

    After reading this thread, I’m afraid to wear my New York Yankees baseball cap in public!

  4. Barnabas says:

    I’ve seen black people wave the confederate flag, I’ve seen them wear it. So I knew if I looked it up on-line I’d find a group or at least a website.


  5. Brent Finnegan says:

    Today the DNR reports that “any use of the Confederate flag to taunt, bully or otherwise intimidate others in Rockingham County Public Schools will be treated as misconduct and result in decisive disciplinary action.”

    Superintendent Carol Fenn is quoted as saying something that has been mentioned earlier in this conversation.

    Fenn stressed that while some students have called their conduct “free speech,” they must first learn how to use that and other such rights responsibly.

    “While we respect that there are some student rights to ‘free speech,’ the rights of adolescents are not necessarily as extensive as might be claimed,” she said. “Responsibilities go hand-in-hand with rights. Responsibility must be learned before rights can ever be enjoyed.”

  6. seth says:

    ‘responsibility must be learned before rights can ever be enjoyed’

    i’d like to see where she found that in the constitution (or how people would feel if this sort of logic were applied to any situation other than this).

    that being said, i think this is probably the best they can do.

  7. Dany Fleming says:

    Seth, “freedom of speech” is restricted in a lot of circumstances. As it relates to children and schools, there are plenty of restrictions that you don’t find in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I think you’d find people feel better protected by the logic of many of those restrictions.

    Child pornography is not a protected form of free speech. Generally, speech considered “harmful to children” is not fully protected. These aren’t restrictions in the Constitution, but you won’t find reasonable objection to its lawful restrictions.

    I imagine you’d agree to restrictions to someone standing off your property and yelling threats and obscenities towards your home with a bull horn at 2am. Of course, most of us learned the analogy of “you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.” TV has plenty of restrictions on open broadcasting. Defamation is not protected free speech.

    Contested free speech can be required to pass the “clear and present danger” test. Restrictions can be lawfully placed when a “captive” audience cannot “avoid objectionable speech.” That certainly applies to K-12 schools.

    Placing responsibility requirements on free speech in her schools is not something Super. Fenn just pulled out of thin air. It has plenty of legal backing and precedence.

    I’m no constitutional scholar. However, I’m sure flag-waving students have plenty of free speech opportunities – it’s just not protected everywhere and at every time they decide.

  8. seth says:

    i could be mistaken, but i think you’d be hard pressed to find case law where the justification for restriction of free speech in schools (or anywhere else) is that it is necessary for individuals to learn responsibility before they’re afforded their rights (that is, it seems much more like something an educator would say than like court worthy logic).

    many of the examples you give of areas where speech is impermissible involve somehow breaking laws (which then precludes any sort of notion of protected speech).

    taunting, bullying or otherwise intimidating could certainly be construed as such. whether or not you could say the same about quietly flying a flag remains to be seen.

    (and in terms of tv, it will be a cold day in hell before you convince me that the fcc acts constitutionally (or rationally for that matter))

  9. Dany Fleming says:

    Seth, I’m not at all hard pressed to find “case law” that places a responsibility on free speech. The courts are full of cases about conditions affecting free speech. There’s absolutely “case law” in which the Supreme Court specifically addresses schools and responsibilities for speech. The Supreme Court addresses intimidation; it specifically acknowledges students as having 1st amendment rights in school; it talks about the difficulty of proving intent. I’m sure the school board lawyer’s researched and carefully crafted their policy.

    Of course, the laws don’t require that people “learn responsibility,” they just require people exercise responsibilities in certain settings. The school board is well within their rights, but folks are free to challenge the legality. This is how laws are created – they don’t exist in a vacuum, as you seem to suggest. Also, taunting is not breaking a law, as you suggest. The school board can’t be looking to set some legal precedent here, though. I imagine they are trying to, first and foremost, just make sure all students are provided a safe and welcoming environment without undue restrictions.

    That said, it really seems that the bigger question is less a legal one and more about how to best educate everyone around these issues – this is, after all, a school. I’m not sure if anything else is being coordinated at the school (I’d certainly love to know). What better form of education is there than for the school to be an example of how to courageously take on issues with the students? That may make the school nervous; that’s understandable. Be leaders, though, and show students the value of taking a risk for a better good. Does anyone know if that’s happening at the school.?

    The caveat to this should certainly be that it’s not about the individual students involved. Neither side of the incident should be made a focal point. That’s a challenge. However, the best time is now and it shouldn’t be put off until the next incident.

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