A lawyer who represents school districts in Montana said a high school that suspended a student for wearing a Confederate flag hooded sweatshirt had the right to do so.
Attorney Elizabeth Kaleva acknowledged the competing interests of recognizing students’ free speech rights and preventing disruption to the education process.
But Kavela, who represents Montana school districts such as Missoula, sided with Missoula County Public High Schools in its ability to prevent Big Sky High School student Mitchell Ballas from wearing a Confederate flag sweatshirt, reported the Missoulian.
“There are a lot of cases actually where the use of the Confederate flag has been banned at schools and been upheld,” Kaleva told the Missoulian.
A Big Sky High School student was suspended from school Tuesday for repeatedly wearing a Confederate flag sweatshirt, despite the administration’s requests that he take it off. https://t.co/mZ6F0hcv1M #Missoula pic.twitter.com/xS5bqBdZEv
— Missoulian (@missoulian) May 17, 2018
The 17-year-old Ballas rejects the notion that the Confederate flag symbolizes hate and said he wears it to support the First Amendment.
He also points out the school’s handbook does not explicitly forbid wearing the Confederate flag.
“The school is in the wrong for saying they can dictate me wearing this sweatshirt,” Ballas told Fox News.
“They’re saying it’s offending kids and it’s derogatory and all that, but it’s not. It’s my First Amendment right.”
However, the school can suspend students for “disruption of the learning environment,” and Big Sky High School’s principal, Natalie Jaeger, does not view the flag in the same light as the student.
“Regardless of the intent of the students displaying the flag, the flag is a symbol in 2018 that is used to express racism and oppression, and that has no place in an educational environment,” Jaeger told Fox News.
Jaeger said about 30 students privately said they were scared and nervous because of the flags displayed by Ballas and other students on clothing and cars.
“Tomorrow, I’m going to wear the sweatshirt again, and if they suspend me longer, they suspend me longer, but I’m not going to give in to them,” Ballas told Fox News Tuesday.
“What they’re doing is wrong, and I won’t allow it.”
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