Visalia Unified’s school board will consider a dress code change after a student in September was labeled by other students to be a white supremacist for wearing a Confederate flag sweatshirt.
The policy will be updated to include the phrase “other hate groups” to clothing, jewelry and personal items that are banned. School officials say the update will make the dress code consistent with the district’s policies on harassment, bullying and student free speech.
If the update is approved by the school board, the Confederate flag may be banned on campuses depending on context and circumstances, Superintendent Todd Oto said.
“We’re not banning the Confederate flag,” he said. “There’s situations where we might do that if the impact on campus is sufficient to do so, but we’re not banning it outright. It depends on how the Confederate flag is used and how the impact is perceived on campus.”
The 15-year-old student in September who wore the sweatshirt was stopped by a group of girls who questioned him. Later a photo of him circulated on social media that was captioned “flex #whitepower.”
In that case, the student wearing the flag sweatshirt was a victim, said Lucia Vazquez, Visalia Unified school board president.
“The student was not going around trying to push (the flag) on students or bully them,” she said.
In another case, a student attached a Confederate flag to a truck and was driving back and forth in front of a campus.
“In that case, they were trying to show much more than Southern pride, I think,” Vazquez said. “In that incident, the student was asked to park on street rather than campus. That’s more of a hate speech, or something showing more emotion.”
Oto said the new language will help staff and administrators determine whether students are exercising free speech or using a symbol for bullying or harassment.
The district also is asking for student input on the dress code changes.
“The language should serve all kids,” Vazquez said. “Our policies should reflect how we can keep our kids safe.”