School Law Bulletin #2002/01

Student Display of Confederate Symbols in Public School

Tuesday, January 1, 2002

Whether it is being removed from atop the South Carolina capitol or remaining a part of the state flag by the vote of Mississippi residents, the Confederate flag continues to be a controversial symbol. For some it is a reminder of the bravery and honor of soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their homeland. For others it is a symbol of slavery, racism, and resistance to school integration.

The battle over this controversial symbol has moved into our nation’s schools. Students who resist dress codes or other rules prohibiting the display of the flag or other Confederate symbols have handed school administrators a dilemma: while charged to foster an inclusive environment that facilitates learning, these officials are also bound to respect all students’ First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

This paper explores the legal implications of a school board’s decision to prohibit the display of Confederate symbols. It examines U.S. Supreme Court decisions on student dress and analyzes Confederate flag cases from several federal circuit courts. It concludes by addressing how this body of law applies to North Carolina schools and by offering guidelines to school administrators who are contemplating a ban on Confederate symbols.

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Public Officials - Local and State Government Roles