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Allegheny

Plum students sent home for wearing Confederate attire

Samson X Horne
| Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, 1:39 p.m.
Buses line up for dismissal at Plum Senior High School in August 2016.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Buses line up for dismissal at Plum Senior High School in August 2016.

Maurice Freeman went to Plum High School to pull his daughter out of class after she called and said she was scared because a number of students wore clothing adorned with Confederate flags Friday.

For many like Freeman, who is black, the Confederate flag is a symbol of hatred, bigotry and a reminder of slavery. So he was worried when his daughter said “a bunch” of kids were wearing the offensive clothing at the school.

“I wasn't sure what was going on. I wanted to get her out of harm's way,” Freeman said about his 10th-grade daughter. “My concern is security.”

Talking outside the school after meeting with administrators, he said he was satisfied that his daughter was safe after being told the students were told to remove the offending clothing or be sent home.

Freeman said administrators offered counseling for his daughter and other students made uncomfortable over the incident. School Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said only three students wore Confederate flags, although Freeman and another black parent, Robert Williams, said their children indicated there were several more. Glasspool said two kids were sent home after refusing to remove the clothing. The third student removed the offensive attire and remained in school.

“This isn't the end of this,” Glasspool said. “I have a feeling that parents of the students who were sent home will feel like their child's rights were violated.”

Duquesne Law Professor Bruce Ledewitz said school districts are allowed to limit free speech as part their charge to provide a safe learning environment for students.

“In-school disruption is considered grounds to limit free speech,” Ledewitz said. “All symbols that provoke disruption of schools should be banned.”

David L. Hudson Jr., a scholar with the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, added that courts have ruled that school districts can ban offensive clothing and have the authority to take disciplinary action against students wearing something that could cause racial tension.

“If there's been evidence of racial tensions, it's going to be enough for the courts to rule with the school district,” he said.

The controversy started last week when Williams complained about a student wearing a sweatshirt with a Confederate flag and administrators told him the district could not stop the boy from “exercising free speech” if he wasn't disrupting the school day.

That answer didn't satisfy Williams, who has three daughters, including an 11th-grader, in Plum schools. He said the district has the authority to enforce a dress code barring offensive clothing.

“They just need to enforce their own policies,” he said.

Samson X Horne is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. Reach him at 412-320-7845 or shorne@tribweb.com.

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