SYRACUSE — A small group of Wawasee High School students flying the Confederate flag on their pickup trucks and also wearing some form of the flag on their clothing has apparently attracted plenty of local attention and even some national attention. During the regular monthly meeting of the Wawasee School Board Tuesday evening, Oct. 9, in Syracuse, the board heard comments from five people, three of whom only spoke very briefly, about the Confederate flag incident.
Last week after investigating the situation, administrators decided to tell the students they could no longer fly the flag on school property or wear the flag on their clothing. Threats were reported and at least one faculty member contacted administration saying offensive remarks had been made and the classroom learning environment was disrupted.
Dustin Nabinger, a 1996 graduate of WHS, said he feels false impressions were formed of the students flying the Confederate flag and “extremely derogatory remarks” were made about the students. Their constitutional rights were violated, he added. He noted the flag being flown was not a racial incident as some had implied.
Nabinger said in today’s political climate, people put their feelings first. He noted the Confederate flag has been on school property in previous years and nothing was said. He asked the school board to “rectify the situation in a timely manner.”
Linda Mojica, who said she is part Mexican and lives in a ethnically diverse community, said she felt the school corporation put out a statement implying the students flying the Confederate flag are racially hateful, “but was there any proof of that?” She noted the investigation has not yet been completed and “this can make these kids a target,” she said.
She said this is an opportunity to not only educate the students, but the local community too. “I didn’t understand why there were so many people still flying that flag up here in the North,” she said, “but there are a lot of people who have migrated here from the South and that flag is part of their heritage.”
In response, James Flecker, director of legal and personnel services for the school corporation, said administrators acted when the learning environment was disrupted and offensive comments were made, even in classroom situations. He said there is case law establishing the right for public school corporations to mute freedom of speech when something is offensive, obscene or lewd.
“Students are here to learn,” he said, and it is the responsibility of the school corporation to educate them and keep them safe.
He said nothing had been said about the Confederate flag previously but then teachers started emailing administrators saying their classrooms had been disrupted, offensive comments were made and students felt threatened and afraid to even come to school.
Flecker added the situation presented teachable moments about the Civil War and the evolution of the Confederate flag.
Kim Nguyen, WHS principal, said a few people from the public came on the campus and took photos of the flags and even the license plates of the trucks. “I felt like they could be seeking out the kids and they were up to no good,” he said. “I started getting phone calls and emails and I felt like the kids could be sitting ducks.”
Nguyen and Flecker both emphasized if students are threatened, regardless of which side they are on, they should report it immediately to the high school administration.