A Visalia mother kept her son home from high school on Monday, saying she feared for his safety after students labeled him a white supremacist when he wore a sweatshirt in the design of the Confederate flag.
The mother and student have not been identified by name publicly.
A group of girls stopped the boy after lunch on Friday and began questioning him about the sweatshirt, Principal Matt Shin told the Times-Delta. An administrator interrupted, directing the students to head to class and promising to look into the situation, he said.
“In regard to dress code, with 2,300 students, we don’t always catch every kid,” Shin said. “Before lunch, there were no reports to the office of any disruption to others.”
The student began receiving threats after someone posted a photo of the sweatshirt to Snapchat with the caption “flex #whitepower.” The photo was widely circulated on other social media platforms as well.
The boy’s mother said her son isn’t racist, and to him, the flag represents freedom and Constitutional rights.
“The only reason the picture exploded was because of the hashtag used,” she told the Times-Delta on Monday. “To me, this is ignorance. These people don’t know my son, he’s not racist. … The reason he wore what he wore is that the flag represents more than slavery, it represents a lot of other things. He’s not being racist. Everyone learns history differently.”
“He assured he wasn’t racist and explained he’s very much into the heritage of the South and has family there,” Shin said.
The student wore the sweatshirt to school for the first time on Friday. In the past, he’s worn a Confederate flag belt buckle without issue, his mother said.
Visalia Unified Superintendent Todd Oto said the dress code is open for interpretation, and school administrators take action when attire disrupts a school day.
“Generally, student dress code is like language, it’s a free speech issue,” Oto said.
The district does, however, prohibit students from wearing clothing with explicit words or images.
Redwood High School on Monday sent out a statement about the incident to students, staff and parents.
“School administration has met with student and his parent about the incident that took place on Friday and have worked to resolve the incident as well as to ensure that there will be no more similar incidents like it in the future. This entire incident is an educational reminder to all of us how the interpretations of different symbols and expressions can vary from person to person. It’s also a reminder to us that schools should always be a safe and inclusive place for students to learn and interact with one another.”
In April, another Visalia mother expressed concern about a Confederate flag hanging in her daughter’s history class at La Joya Middle School. The flag was taken down, and school officials and the teacher apologized.