WEST SALEM — The battle flag of the Confederacy no longer flies in the West Salem High School parking lot after administrators asked students to either remove the flags from their vehicles or park elsewhere Tuesday.
Ethan Faucett, who said he first began flying the Confederate flag a few weeks ago as a gesture of individualism and rebellion, was warned late last week that the flag was a distraction. Principal Josh Mallicoat explained the significance and history of the flag. Faucett removed the flag from his vehicle.
“On school property, it’s not OK,” Mallicoat said he told Faucett.
On Monday, the flag was back and in force: Four trucks brandishing the Confederate flag were parked along the back of the school lot, clearly visible from Mark Street.
Faucett, a 17-year-old junior, and his senior friends Zack Magnuson, 17, Jared Novak, 18, and Jake Adams, 18, had scoured the student handbook for a rule covering the flags and hadn’t found one.
Mallicoat warned them they wouldn’t be allowed into the parking lot again with the flags raised. On Tuesday morning, the group returned to the parking lot, flags flying high. Mallicoat invited the students, now five of them, to his office.
“I tried to make it a learning opportunity for them,” he said.
Mallicoat again explained the significance of the flag to the students and what it has come to represent.
“It’s definitely associated with principles that we don’t stand for,” Mallicoat said.
Mallicoat told the group the flags couldn’t be flown on school property because they had become a distraction to other students.
“All of them claimed there wasn’t any racial motivation to it,” Mallicoat said. “They thought the flag looked cool flying from the back of their vehicles.”
He added that some of the students said they identified with Southern pride.
“In no way was it racist or to upset anyone,” Novak said.
Mallicoat said two of the students responded well when asked to remove the flags or leave the parking lot and they apologized for the disruption.
He said the other three students weren’t as happy to comply, but agreed to park elsewhere.
Novak said it was understandable that the school district asked them not to park in the parking lot.
“We didn’t put up a fuss. We understand that they need to teach and we are not trying to cause a big problem,” he said. “It’s rebel, not racist.”
Three of them parked their vehicles on the street, less than a block from the high school. Faucett and his friends returned to their vehicles after school to find the flags stolen.
Novak said people have the right to think what they want, but they don’t have the right to steal.
“All the flags were gone,” Faucett said. “One was ripped off the pole.”
This has done little to dissuade the students. They’ve already ordered new flags and plan to fly them again once the community calms down.
Magnuson said they are now trying to share the “true meaning” of the flag.
Novak said he has received a lot of support from fellow students telling him to keep the flags up.
Both Mallicoat and Superintendent Troy Gunderson consulted attorneys before asking the students to remove the flags.
“As a school you want to make sure you handle these cases carefully,” Gunderson said.
Gunderson cited the West Salem High School handbook’s policy that states a student’s freedom of speech can be limited if it causes a significant disruption, is perversely vulgar, or is harmful to one’s self or others.
“It had reached the point of being disruptive,” he said.
Gunderson said he faced a similar as superintendent in Galesville, where a student refused remove a white t-shirt that read KKK.
Faucett and his friends’ display caught the attention of a number of students, teachers and parents.
“They’re kind of idiots,” student Nick Johnson said. “They can’t claim the heritage because they’re not from the South.”
Student Brett Zinnel said flying the flags gave the school a negative feel.
“They can do their own thing, but maybe not on school property,” he said.
Mallicoat said he received numerous calls and visits from concerned parents, and a number of minority students expressed anxiety over the display.
He said in the display cut into educational time, but distraction became a learning opportunity because of classroom discussions.
This didn’t come as a surprise to the students who parked their vehicles on the street less than a block from the high school.
Magnuson said he and his friends understand the past, but that other people have misconceptions about the flag because they don’t know the history.