A Massachusetts city has banned the Confederate flag in its public schools in response to reports from middle school students who said they felt unsafe after seeing classmates display or wear the flag during remote classes.
The 10-member Northampton School Committee on Thursday night unanimously approved of the ban on displays of the flag by students, staff and visitors on school property, at school-sponsored activities and during virtual events and learning, Masslive.come reports. There are exceptions for images of the flag in library materials and for properly supervised classroom assignments.
"I think this policy is an important first step toward ensuring a safe learning environment and hope we soon find a way to expand this beyond just one of these images and symbols," committee member Roni Gold said.
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The vote came after JFK Middle School Principal Desmond Caldwell, in a video last month asked students to stop wearing or displaying Confederate flags during virtual classes because it made other students feel unsafe, The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported.
An anonymous Facebook page claiming to be made by students at the school responded to the video with posts accusing Caldwell of trying to suppress free speech. Law enforcement was informed of the page, though it's unclear who set it up.
In response, students on Feb. 24 held a rally outside of the school in support of Caldwell, who is Black.
There were some free speech concerns about a Confederate flag ban, but the board's attorney researched case law and said courts have allowed similar bans when there is a disruption to learning.
"We can't ban something if we don't know it's going to cause disruption," Layla Taylor said. "So what you're faced with here is a unique thing: there's been an actual disruption in the school. Absolutely. The last few months at JFK have shown that. There are kids that have expressed that they feel unsafe by this flag, and legitimately so."