ORANGE COUNTY, North Carolina (WTVD) -- The Orange County Board of Education is set to vote on a revised dress code policy that would not, by name, ban Confederate flags on campuses despite pressure from parents to do so.
In a special work session to address the controversial issue Wednesday, board members heard from legal experts-- law professors from UNC-Chapel Hill and NCCU, as well as attorneys with the ACLU and NAACP-- to learn more about the history of the Confederate flag and students' First Amendment rights to freedom of expression.
"The flag supports a history of slavery," said Irving Joyner, an NCCU law professor who works with the NC NAACP.
"Any effort of a school system to censor students' speech is an exercise in government control over private expression," said Chris Brook, ACLU of NC Legal Director. "Make no mistake. Decisions your board makes on this issue are not made in a vacuum. Are you comfortable with every school system in North Carolina having vast discretion to regulate student speech?"
The board has been tasked with striking that balance between free speech and maintaining schools' mission of educating effectively and efficiently in a safe environment.
"How can that be accomplished when there's a student who is forced to be in school and forced to be exposed to a symbol that to them represents hate and white supremacy?" Asked April Dawson, NCCU law professor.
Board members had asked Superintendent Dr. Todd Wirt ahead of the work session to prepare a draft revision of the dress code policy which reads:
"Clothing and accessories are not to substantially disrupt the education process. Students are not to wear clothing, buttons, patches, jewelry or any other items with words, phrases, symbols, pictures or signs that are indecent, profane, or racially intimidating that creates a reasonable forecast of disruption."
LaTarndra Strong, the parent behind Hate-Free Schools Coalition which has been leading the movement to ban the Confederate flag from Orange County schools said she was disappointed with the suggested policy.
"I'm actually baffled," she said. "I want a statement from the school that they understand that the Confederate flag is in itself disruptive enough."
Shortly after receiving input from legal experts, Wirt distributed the proposed revision, to the board saying he took into consideration a survey he did of 40 teachers and a dozen high school students.
Wirt said while the students reported only seeing a few of their peers wearing symbols of the Confederate flag to school, many said it made them feel unsafe and unwelcome in the classroom.
Dr. Stephen Halkiotis, Board of Education Chair, said the revised policy including language about racially intimidating items, is a step in the right direction.
"That is much stronger than anything we've got right now," Halkiotis said.
The board is set to take a vote on the revised policy at its next meeting on June 12.