The Orange County school board sent a revised dress code responding to concerns about the Confederate flag back to committee Monday night to cover more potentially discriminatory apparel.
The board had given preliminary approval June 12 to new language that instructs principals to deal with clothing that substantially disrupts the education process, including “racially intimidating” apparel.
But board member Donna Coffey said board members could do better by rewriting the policy to cover all students facing potential hatred, such as LGBT students, and not just those affected by racism.
“This policy, in short, protects some and shortchanges others,” she said.
Though Coffey and other board members saw the draft as lacking inclusive language, board members Brenda Stephens and Matthew Roberts said it was a step in the right direction.
“What’s to stop us from passing this tonight and working on it from there?” Stephens asked.
Roberts suggested approving the current draft while returning to it to address other potential issues.
“It’s time that ‘racially intimidating’ deserves a bullet point on the student dress code,” he said.
Following a tally of 4-3 votes, the auditorium at A.L. Stanback Middle School drained away a clustered crowd of 70 to a scattered 15.
With half in attendance wearing a white shirt with “Ban It Now” in red lettering, the school board then moved to a separate but related issue: a plan to limit public comments at regular board business meetings.
Supporters of banning the Confederate flag have spoken at length at board meetings over the past six months, with dozens of speakers sometimes running more than an hour in total.
The school board wants to now limit public comments to 30 minutes. Monday’s vote was preliminary, with a second vote required to enact the change.
“I can’t help but feel this is a response” to the uproar against the Confederate flag, said Kelly Saxon, mother of two in Orange County. “How are we, as concerned citizens, supposed to limit ourselves to a time limit?”
Sarah Smiley, a parent of children in Orange County Schools, called the changes “deeply anti-democratic.”
“I’ve found comments made by this community in the last few months to be really remarkable and really inspiring,” she said.
Chuck Willingham, wearing a “Ban It Now” shirt, suggested the board settle on changes for the student dress code before moving onto limiting public opinion.
“You may want to consider the harm that is being afflicted on students of color,” he said.
Willingham also noted that by limiting time given to the public, the board was effectively banning Latarndra Strong instead of taking a stand against the flag.
Strong, founder of the Hate Free Schools Coalition, has pushed for a ban of the Confederate flag after seeing it displayed on a truck in Orange High School’s student parking lot three days in a row.
Even as the board had preliminary approval for the prohibition of “racially intimidating” clothing and accessories, Strong says the board has taken one large step backward.
“I don’t see how you could – on one hand – have an equity task force and then have a restriction on public comment in the other,” she said. “I feel like there’s a trust issue between the public and the board.”
While some chose to remain seated for the Pledge of Allegiance at the meeting’s start, everyone stood to cheer for Strong as she returned from the podium.
School board Chairman Steve Halkiotis, who has said speakers spent too much of the board’s time on the Confederate flag in recent months, says the board will need more time to discuss prior to its next meeting July 17.
“This has to be the most significant policy Orange County has faced since schools were integrated,” he said.