The fate of the Rebel flag

Cheerleaders Kassidy Kinsey and Sierra Lambeck, Hays High School seniors, wearing their personalized overalls on Rebel Pride Day in September. (Photo by Sandy Kinsey)

by KIM HILSENEBCK

It was an emotional Monday for several Hays CISD board members as they debated well into the night the tenuous future of the Rebel flag on student personal property at the November regular board meeting.

The district has spent the past month gathering input from Hays High School students and teachers about whether or not the Confederate flag should be allowed to be displayed on personal property while that property is on school premises.

That research, in part based on focus groups with 23 Hays High students, led to the recommendation to amend the Student Code of Conduct rules to unilaterally ban the flag and all offensive imagery from personal property, including clothing and vehicles at all campuses, not just the high school.

At Monday’s meeting, the first reading of that recommendation took place. Discussion among board members then lasted more than an hour.

Trustees were at times passionate, some verging on tears as they shared personal and constituents’ points of view.

“It’s a fact that people see the flag as a symbol of pride, others see it as intolerable,” said board member Robert Limon, whose son attends Hays High. “It’s a divisive issue in our community.”

Many board members said they are split on the issue because at its core, it is confounding and complex.

On one hand, board member Marty Kanetzky said, “I have gone ‘round and ‘round again on this issue because I took an oath [as a board member]to uphold the [U.S.] Constitution, which says something about free speech.”

She continued, at times with her voice wavering, “But I don’t want any student or faculty member to feel harassed. I’m having a real hard time.”

Kanetzky also said she feels the district came down with a hammer on an issue that could have been handled more appropriately, alluding to the campus administration’s tendency to act without having a clear, consistent policy and enforcement of displaying the Rebel flag.

Board member Meredith Keller said she would like to see the issue of students wearing clothing on campus or at school events separate from students displaying the flag on personal vehicles.

“I somewhat object to this being in the Student Code of Conduct. I feel strongly that it should be separated into two things…and that’s because our board has the right to determine [the dress code]. What concerns me is whether or not we have the right to decide what a child can have on their car in the parking lot. That seems to me to be a separate issue.”

She said another concern about making this change to the Student Code of Conduct is that it is subject to annual revisions, whereas a policy change would be a once and done deal.

Trustee Sean Bosar appeared emotional when he spoke about having to make the decision about banning the Rebel flag.

“I’m split,” he said. “The discussion we’re having is about intolerance and people being hurt.”

He also noted that many of the public speakers hooked the flag and the Rebel symbol and the Dixie fight song together.

“It’s preposterous and crazy to say, the flag is inappropriate but the song does nothing,” he said.

Superintendent Jeremy Lyon reminded Bosar that the charge to the board was to recommend whether or not to allow students to display the flag on personal property; the school fight song and Rebel image are not on the table at this time.

“Can you still be a Rebel without the Confederate flag or Dixie?” asked trustee Holly Raymond, a 1996 graduate of Hays High School.

Her eyes watered as she talked about her struggle to separate school pride from the offensiveness of the image to some community members.

“I know what it’s like to be a student here and what the flag means at Hays. But I also knew not to wear it into Austin because it would offend someone,” she said. “I wouldn’t wear it today. But that’s my personal choice.”

For his part, Lyon supports banning the flag.

“We’re not trying to erase the past or denigrate anyone’s history. It is a legacy of our district. But, we also have the diversity here before us to do the work so that our students have the best opportunity to succeed in this world,” Lyon said.

Eleven community members also spoke during the opening hearing portion of the meeting, most siding with support of the ban.

Lehman High School student Cheryl Rivers told the board the Confederate flag is not a welcoming symbol.

“Hays has great teachers, but the majority of Lehman kids would not want to go to Hays because it’s not welcoming,” she said. “I hope you make the right decision.”

The board of trustees agreed they have their work cut out for them on this issue. December’s meeting will include the second reading of the recommendation; the board will vote on the issue at that time.

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