CALADONIA, Mich. – Caledonia Community Schools Superintendent Randy Rodriguez believes “a greater time of sensitivity” is reason enough to force a local student to remove a Confederate flag shirt.
Caledonia High School junior Donovan Stokes was approached by a principal Wednesday and ordered to remove a rebel flag tank top he wore to school over a white long sleeve shirt. Stokes resisted, and argued that the shirt does not violate the school dress code, Wood TV 8 reports.
“I wore everything as proper. This is just a shirt; it’s the rebel flag,” Stokes told the news site. “It was bullying. They were bullying me to take off my shirt and I did not have to go home. They cannot send me home. That is losing my education.”
Unfortunately, resistance was futile.
The principal told Stokes to either go home, or remove the shirt. Stokes choose the latter.
“The principal gave me two options and I requested a letter asking why he had to take the shirt off,” Jolene Stokes, Donovan’s mother, told the news site.
The letter from the school stated Stokes was forced to remove the shirt “because of what the flag is used to symbolize by others, we feel it could contribute to a hostile environment for many of our students.”
Rodriguez elaborated for Wood TV 8.
“We are in a greater time of sensitivity right now for many reasons that have gone around the country, but also locally. I want all of our children to feel like this is a place that they belong, this is a place that they can learn and we’re going to protect them all and we’re going love them all,” he said.
“Any type of attire that might challenge that, might create disorder or disruption to the environment, we have responsibility to prohibit that attire. We love freedom of speech and we educate kids and we want them to know that they do have the right to stand up and speak their mind and share their opinions and we value that as much as anybody else,” he said.
“At the same time, if that is going to disrupt our educational setting, that has to come first. That climate that we create for students to learn and grow has to come first, so that’s why we have to be able to respond the way we are responding.”
Stokes told the news station he was met with a similar response from school officials when he wore a rebel flag belt buckle to class in middle school. He said he understands why some people find the flag offensive, but contends he’s not racist and grew up watching the Dukes of Hazzard.
“I can see how people could be offended by it due to the slavery thing, but that’s because of the education. We are being taught in schools that this is not right, not just. I understand how people would totally get offended by this. People want to think of this as a hate flag, but this is really a patriotic flag than anything,” he said, adding that school officials should use the incident to spark a discussion about the flag’s symbolism.
The incident follows numerous clashes between students and schools over the Confederate flag in the wake of a racially motivated church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina last summer, EAGnews reports. The accused killer, Dylann Roof, allegedly liked to pose with the Confederate flag in Facebook posts.
In Shallotte, North Carolina earlier this week three students were arrested on misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges after wearing a Confederate flag as a cape and chanting “white power” as they marched through West Brunswick High School’s cafeteria and courtyard, according to WWAY.
And in September more than 20 Christianburg High School students in Virginia were suspended for protesting against a school ban on the Confederate flag by wearing clothes emblazoned with the divisive symbol, The Washington Post reports.