The Tomah School Board ratified a ban of the Confederate flag Monday. By a 7-0 vote, the board prohibited students from displaying depictions of the flag on school grounds.

Cindy Zahrte

Cindy Zahrte

The vote came after several parents expressed concern that the flag carries racist overtones and is intimidating to non-white students. School district superintendent Cindy Zahrte said several parents expressed concern that students who wore the flag were “creating a hostile learning environment for their children.”

“A number of students were feeling threatened ... because we were allowing the Confederate flag to be displayed on student clothing,” Zahrte said.

The board first discussed the issue during a Jan. 21 meeting after the Local Indian Education Committee asked the board to take action. During the meeting, speakers told the board the Confederate flag is a symbol of bigotry and racism.

However, several community members have spoken out against the ban.

John Pleuss denied the flag is racist and said the ban is a violation of free speech. He said the flag “is part of our heritage.”

“There are probably a lot of people who don’t care for the American flag, either − did you take a survey on that?” asked Pleuss, one of three people to address the board. “What’s going to happen is that some people are going to lose their civil rights.”

Pleuss suggested the district hold a referendum on the ban.

Tomah High School junior Brett Larkin said the courts have generally supported a student’s right to symbolic speech.

“We can argue the perspective of the history of the flag either way all day long, but the perspective of the flag doesn’t matter,” Larkin said. “Once we start with the Confederate flag, we’re going down a very slippery slope.”

Larkin acknowledged it’s a “complicated issue” and that he “feels compassion for those who do feel offended by the flag,” but said those who wear it aren’t intending to offend anyone.

“The students I’ve talked said they’re not wearing it to be racist, they’re not wearing it to be intimidating,” Larkin said.

Tomah High School principal Robert Joyce pushed back against that contention.

“I can tell you right now some of the things I’ve heard from students wearing the flag (and) family members of students wearing the flag ... were disheartening,” Joyce said. “There has been a distraction in school because I’ve been the one to deal with it.”

Stephanie Begay referred to the incident at Baraboo High School, where students were accused of making a Nazi salute during a group photo.

“I feel we’re headed in that direction if we don’t take a stand,” she said. “I don’t want to get to the point where Baraboo is at.”

Board member Jerry Fushianes said the issue “isn’t for or against a flag.”

“Our responsibility is to create an environment that allows for the best possible learning opportunities for our students,” he said. “Anything that compromises that from happening needs to be addressed by the board.”

Fushianes said he has received multiple emails from people who said they will base their vote for school board on the issue.

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Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at steve.rundio@lee.net.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

(37) comments

Socrates

What action will the Tomah Taliban take should someone complain they are offended or scared by The site of a shirt with the American Flag?

wiladyslipper

I shared this news article with people I know from other towns. Someone made the comment that Tomah is backward and wondered why the parents of the students wearing Confederate flags weren't stepping up to stop their kids from wearing the shirts. Give me a break, we know why they're wearing them. I told them that there are a lot of fine people in Tomah who are far from backward. Kudos to the Native American parent group for stepping up...I wish there was a group like this for parents of kids of other races. Please do not let this negative incident take away from all the wonderful work that is happening at this school district in the areas of mental health and ongoing career opportunities.

DMoney

You know the handful of kids wearing them are racist and trying to intimidate the minority kids? That's quite the assumption. One might call it prejudicial.

I agree parents should have better judgement and discipline. But to send the message that anything that makes you uncomfortable is banned is a disservice to the kids. I would have used it as an opportunity to communicate and build bridges rather than hide my head in the sand and pretend it will just go away.

Cassandra2

Yes, wearing the symbol of the failed Confederacy is blatantly racist, just like wearing a white robe and hood. And yet the D-bag supports it.

DMoney

Does wearing a shirt that shows any cleavage automatically make it's wearer a slu*?

Cassandra2

Leave it to the D-bag to try to change the subject and engage in sexist behavior. What a 12-year-old child.

DMoney

Does it? I'll answer you this time because I know this one makes you squirm.

Cassandra2

And the D-bag doubles down on racism and sexism. So unsurprising.

Socrates

As slavery seems to be a large portion of the ongoing conversation perhaps we should consider that only 1.4% of Americans owned slaves and of these at the peak of slavery in 1860 3000 Blacks held 20,000 slaves.

Jobaba

The flag was an emblem of the military arm of a government that believed in human bondage. This government was in active rebellion against the U.S. It was defeated and its flag forced down at the point of a bayonet with a complete and utter surrender. It has no honor left and should never fly anywhere unless it is on the graves of Confederate soldiers once a year. It should not be reproduced on clothing or anywhere else because it dishonors the soldiers who mistakenly fought under it against their own country. It should only be represented in educational texts and museums where it can moulder away into history. Look up the Iron Brigade. Walk through almost any cemetery in all those small towns across the Midwest. Respect those that brought the flag to its end. And for those that make the neo-confederate claim that the war was not about slavery, look up the Articles of Secession. At least three states wrote down their reasons for rebellion. Ah yes, they had many reasons, but prominent among them was slavery...in their own words.

DMoney

I actually completely agree with all of this. You are 100% correct. That flag SHOULD not be celebrated. But thank God we live in a place where people have the right of expression. Because "should" is subjective and can apply to any logo, idea, or item. Maybe the next banning will be something you value.

capedcrusader

So then you agreed with Colin Kaepernick?

DMoney

In a war, it takes two to tango. The battle was not joined and fought for 2 years due to slavery. 4 seceding states did issue detailed explanations, in which slavery was a prominent topic. But the Union didn't fight to remove slavery, initially. At the time the south separated, they used an entirely different battle flag. If they seceded because of slavery, we should resent that flag, not the common one we think of. They adapted that one in 1863, after the Union had stated that abolition was a war goal. Since then, it's become a part of culture due to songs, television, film, etc. I doubt most of it's wearers don't even equate it to the civil war, let alone it's deeper influences. I think they associate it with being a rebel, outcast, roughneck, etc. Especially in the North.

DMoney

It's distasteful and offensive to wear something symbolizing hatred and oppression. The rebel flag certainly does that--even if that's not the intent. I'd never be caught dead wearing it and my kids better darn well not be. However, the idea that it must be banned is anti-free speech. I'm sure the school district has the right to do so--as does any business, etc. But it sends the message to developing kids that what makes them uncomfortable can be simply eradicated. Not true in life. Must face challenges and discomforts head on, and daily. Instead of taking the easy and artificial way out, would have been better to hold organized discussions including those who choose to wear them. Kids need to be taught resilience and mental fortitude. Not sheltered from it. Not at that age.

Socrates

Well now that the TOMAH TALIBAN has struck down the Confederate flag what will they go after next? I feel sorry for anyone who is scared or frightened by a piece of clothing with a design on it.WHAT WILL THEY DO WHEN THEY ENTER THE REAL WORLD?

Cassandra2

When they enter the "real world" their employers will also ban them from wearing racist messages on their clothing.

DMoney

The rebel flag is a microcosm of the issue. It's the idea that anything offensive can just be erased. Lots of offensive things happen daily. How will these kids cope?

Cassandra2

It's the flag of our vanquished enemies. You lost the war. Just like the Nazis, you don't get to fly your flag any more.

DMoney

Sure you can, on private property. I know you want this to be a socialist, closed society but it's still free.

Cassandra2

Schools are, by definition, NOT private property. Try again, D-bag.

acrosstheriver

always a bit dismaying to see how many people think committing treason in the defense of slavery- which is exactly what the Civil War was- the state's right in question was the right to treat other human beings as property- is something to be celebrated . Congratulations to the activists and the Tomah school board

DMoney

Civil war was not started over slavery. Lincoln was actually prepared to assure slavery remained in exchange for peace. So yes it became a part of the war--but wasn't the primary or initiating factor.

Mac

The whole issue was slavery. It came to a head when Lincoln, a candidate of a party that opposed the expansion of slavery, was elected president. The south seceded to protect slavery. The Union fought the war to maintain the Union and Lincoln found a way to legally free the slaves in the process, by using wartime confiscation acts to seize the property of the enemy and using that as the legal basis of the Emancipation Proclamation.

DMoney

Look up proposed concessions by Lincoln in 1860 and 1861. Not denying the south had preservation of slavery as a principal motive. But the north was prepared to maintain the status quo.

Mac

Lincoln, and the North, were bound by federal law and the SCOTUS decision in the Dred Scott that maintained that slaves were property. Lincoln could not free the slaves by decree. The only way to free the slaves was by constitutional amendment.

Goldenyrs

What a bunch of cowards. Why oh why are schools trying their best to destroy history? It's okay to have different opinions but running scared is childish. Especially in schools where they learn to hate.

shameless

By your argument, the students should be able to wear the Nazi SS flag on a shirt. You know, because it is history.

DMoney

They should legally be allowed to. Freedom has nothing to do with popular opinion.

Veridic

We should also ban the political party that created the flag.

shameless

Or maybe, we should extinguish the party that supports these folks today.

DMoney

Republicans support the Confederate States of America? Wish I knew that before I registered....grow up.

Cassandra2

Times change, Veridic. Today it is the republicans who are the party of racism and oppression.

DMoney

You just can't help being prejudicial can you? It's especially humorous when you stereotype millions of people for being stereotypers. Do you not see the hypocrisy?

Cassandra2

D-bag, you just can't help being a racist, sexist, wingnut, can you?

DMoney

Well you make me want to be sexist, but thank goodness you don't represent a normal woman.

meklos

Unless, of course, you are in the womb waiting to be born, then there is no one to be feared more than a Democrat, especially one running for federal office.

capedcrusader

Boo hoo.

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