Orange County School Board hears from experts in Confederate flag debate

EFLAND, N.C. (WNCN) — The Orange County School Board called on First Amendment experts Wednesday to help them decide what to do about Confederate flags in schools.

In February, the board declined to implement a Confederate flag ban in schools despite complaints over the last several months about the symbol being displayed at schools.

However, in an effort to continue the conversation, the board invited four experts of the First Amendment to weigh in on the debate. The four speakers addressed the board at their work session on Wednesday.

Some of the experts say the board has every right to ban a symbol that signifies hate and intolerance.

“The forced exposure to such a symbol has a detrimental effect on the learning of those students and it undermines the feeling of safety those students have,” said April Dawson, an Assistant Professor of Law at North Carolina Central University.

Others argue that while the Confederate flag is a divisive symbol, a district-wide ban would suppress students’ free speech.

“Decisions your board makes on this issue are not made in a vacuum,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “Are you comfortable with every school system in North Carolina having vast discretion to regular student speech?”

As the board continues to debate the issue, at least one expert advised the board to carefully vet any potential policy.

“You should think about whether your policy would stand up in court. I think that’s a real concern for me,” said Mary-Rose Papandrea, a Law Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The board is expected to discuss the issue again at its next meeting.

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