Indiana educators banned the Confederate flag at an area high school this week after LGBT students and their supporters complained some of their peers were using the flag to taunt them. The superintendent of Bloomington schools told parents the flag was banned from classrooms and other Bloomington High School North property after four students showed up to class Wednesday wearing Confederate flags as capes, and other students sad they felt threatened.
School district spokesman Andrew Clampitt said the school system does not support behavior that causes "a substantial disruption." School officials had to balance free speech rights with concerns about safety, he said.
"We can't allow and that's where we stand as a corporation," he said. "We don't want to hinder our students' learning abilities. That's one of our top priorities."
Several students described the display as "intimidating hate speech" after several of their peers arrived at school wearing Confederate flag T-shirts. They then wrapped Confederate flags around their bodies. Some students reacted to the Confederate flags by crying.
"It also has become something that symbolizes anti-gay at our school," student Gaia Hendrix-Petry told local reporters. "They were using the 'F' slur and they were saying that if the gays get to wear the rainbow flag, then they should get to wear the Confederate flag, because it represents their heritage," another student said.
Bloomington North Principal Jeffry Henderson sent a letter to parents Wednesday noting some students felt unsafe after other students donned the Confederate flag as a cape.
"Throughout the day, this issue has evolved into one that has created a substantial disruption to the educational environment. As a result, students may no longer wear or display images of the confederate flag on their clothing or any other personal item while at school or a school-sponsored event or function due to the disruption it has created," the letter read. "Please discuss this with your student and ensure that they understand that they are not to wear or display the confederate flag on any item."
It's unclear what punishment students face if they bring the Confederate flag to school under the new policy. Administrators said any violations would be addressed on a case-by-case basis. But some students demanded greater transparency about the policy to avoid future Confederate flag showdowns.
"Everyone felt pretty unsafe. Me, myself, I could not even eat lunch. It's made me sick to my stomach, absolutely. If you can't feel safe in school and that kind of thing is going on around here, it's not just me. It's the collective feeling of everyone," student Caleb Poer told reporters.
Sarah Hannon, 16, said she was also among the offended students who urged administrators to take action.
"I'm definitely really proud that our school district took a big step towards combating institutionally accepted discrimination," the junior told IndyStar via Facebook. "It's a good feeling knowing that we did something meaningful that I feel was bigger than just our school."