Racism Seen In Saranac Student Garb
Stephen Bartlett, PressRepublican.com, May 8
SARANAC — James Blocker, a young black man, complained to Saranac High School officials about the Confederate-flag symbols some students were wearing to school.
In response, the School District banned the symbols.
But on Friday a number of students wore shirts and hats to school with the symbol on them. Some students put confederate flags on their vehicles and paraded back and forth in front of the school a couple times before entering the parking lot.
“Some students are saying the flag stands for hate, slavery and racism, but it doesn’t,” said Kayla Elkins, 15. “We are going to keep wearing these shirts.”
On Friday, school officials sent home students who refused to change their clothes and remove the symbols.
According to Blocker and others, 30 or more students came to school with a confederate flag visible on clothing or a vehicle.
“We have a code of conduct that bars clothing that may promote racial or religious prejudice,” said School Superintendent Michael Derrigo.
“I think sometimes students don’t understand what certain symbols portray to other individuals, and that is an issue we need to express to some students.”
“There should be more education on stuff like this so students know what it means,” he said.
“If you want to wear that symbol outside of school, that’s fine, but you can’t bring that into a structured system and expect it to go on when you have different types of people who are trying to learn.”
The students wearing the shirts — and some of their parents — think they are being censored.
They said students have worn the confederate-flag shirts off and on all year and decided to get together and wear them all at once when the school banned them.
“We are going to keep wearing these shirts until they understand what we are trying to say,” said Tarah Bouvia, 17.
She boarded a school bus Friday wearing a shirt over her confederate-flag top, in an effort to conceal it before she arrived at school. She and some other students added the words “Heritage Not Hate” to their shirts to dispel concerns of racism.
“It is part of the heritage of America,” said Elkins’s mother, Kelli Flores, who helped her daughter make the shirt she wore Thursday.
“So why don’t they wear hooded sheets then, because that is part of America’s heritage?” contended J.W. Wiley, who conducted a diversity-enlightenment session at Saranac High School this school year and is director of Plattsburgh State’s Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion.
“Why not let Germans wear swastikas since all of them didn’t necessarily embrace the extermination of the Jews?
“Better yet, let’s celebrate the 3,000 lynchings that occurred between 1890 and 1920,” he said.
“Idolizing the confederacy and trying not to include the hateful things the confederacy did is impossible.”
Indeed, for many people the confederate flag is a symbol of the past enslavement, murder and rape of blacks.
Blocker sees it as a symbol used by groups like the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists, though he stressed he doesn’t necessarily think all his classmates who wore the symbol to school are racists.
“It just bothers me because there are students in our school who don’t know they are hurting people’s feelings because of their ignorance.”
But Flores feels school officials are taking away her daughter’s rights.
“I wouldn’t let my daughter wear a beer shirt to school or one that promotes drugs,” she said. “But this doesn’t promote anything.”
Phylis Clausen doesn’t think the students are doing anything wrong, either. She had to pick up her granddaughter, Ashley Pelliter, after the 14-year-old refused to remove the confederate flag from an article of clothing.
“I can’t see anything wrong with wearing the flag, and I’m a grandparent,” Clausen said. “It doesn’t say anything about racism.”
Derrigo, stressing he wasn’t suggesting the students wearing the symbols are prejudice, said the shirts nonetheless give the impression they are.
“There is no place in public schools for racial prejudice.”
He said the decision to ban the symbol was the result of complaints from a number of students and adults.
“Nobody is censoring freedom of speech, but I do believe a student’s rights may end where another student’s rights begin.”
Blocker doesn’t regret complaining about the symbols.
“I am offended by the racist implications of the flag,” he said. “But I also spoke up for the kids I know in school who are too scared to say anything.”