Three superintendents from Mississippi Valley Conference school districts say school administrators have wide latitude to prohibit students from wearing symbols that could disrupt the learning process.
They were contacted by the Tomah Journal after the Tomah School Board heard a lengthy debate Jan. 21 about whether students can wear clothing that depicts the Confederate flag. The district deferred a decision on banning the flag but will likely revisit the issue within the next month.
Onalaska School District Superintendent Dr. Fran Finco said the district doesn’t have “a policy that specifically addresses Confederate flags.” He said school district policy “prohibits students from causing an intimidating, harassing or hostile workplace environment.”
“We also have a dress policy that allows the school administrator to not have situations interfere with learning,” Finco said. “In the past, we have had instances when students wore a piece of clothing to school the principal thought would be offensive and has asked the student to remove or cover it up.”
He said the cases were resolved “without incident” and that no attorneys were involved.
Sparta Area School District Superintendent Dr. Amy Van Deuren said the district doesn’t allow depictions of the Confederate flag.
“At some point, this issue was reviewed with counsel, who felt that our student handbook and board policy supported our interpretation,” she said.
Holmen School District Superintendent Dr. Kristin Mueller referred to the district’s student dress policy that prohibits “depictions of violence or depictions of symbols, which would result in a disruption of the learning process or the forecast of disruption of the learning process.”
“When any garment worn can reasonably forecast that it will lead to a substantial disruption of the school environment, our school officials would advise students as to what adjustments would need to be made,” Mueller said.
The Tomah Area School District’s dress code states that the district “recognizes that each student’s mode of dress and grooming is a manifestation of personal style and individual preference. The (school board) will not interfere with the right of students and their parents to make decisions regarding their appearance, except when their choices interfere with the educational program of the schools.”
Under “dress and grooming,” the district can prohibit practices that:
- Present a health or safety hazard.
- Disrupt the educational program.
- Block vision or restrict movement of other students.
The policy also includes an appeal process “involving expressive conduct which the student believes is legally protected.”
The Tomah student who wore the Confederate flag on school grounds has attracted support from local residents who contend banning the flag is a violation of the student’s First Amendment rights.