RICHMOND HILLS, Ga. – Zane Dunn, 14, says he wore a T-shirt with a Confederate battle emblem to school to show pride in his southern heritage.
"It's my heritage, our ancestors died for this flag and I wanted to stand up for them," he said. "If I didn't, they would have died for nothing."
Zane knew the Confederate battle emblem was forbidden at Richmond Hill Middle School, but he and several friends wore it anyway.
They suffered the consequences. They were suspended from school, and told to come back with their parents for a conference.
Citing concerns about school safety and a need to prevent violence, the principal told the boys and their parents that the symbol is not allowed in Bryan County school anymore. "Safety must come first," Superintendent Gary Russell told Fox News.
In more and more schools across Georgia – across many of the states that once made up the Confederacy, in fact – the symbol of that Confederacy is being banned from public schools. And in many of those places, parents and students are not happy about it.
In Bryan County, parents protested at a school board meeting and are considering legal action.
Zane's mother, Ainsley Dunn, plans to insist that her son be given the right to wear the emblem. "It's a matter of culture," she insists. "It's the job of the school district to educate, not to indoctrinate. This is too much political correctness in what used to be the 'land of the free.'"
Educators are defending the policy, saying they have a responsibility to do whatever is necessary to prevent school violence. Herb Garrett, Georgia's executive director of school superintendents, says administrators' highest priority is maintaining a safe and orderly environment in schools.
"The wearing of that emblem, in some cases, might be inflammatory – inflammatory enough to cause a disruption," said Herb Garrett, Georgia's executive director of school superintendents. "An administrator is well within his or her right to ban it."
Many argue these policies restrict freedom. The bans have become more common, critics of the policies say, since Georgia changed its state flag last January after criticism from African-Americans who find it an offensive reminder of the region’s past.
"The flag came down and they said, 'Oh boy, it’s open season on the Confederate flag,'" said attorney Kirk Lyons.
Lyons says he will represent students who defy the ban. He believes the bans amount to a violation of students' civil and constitutional rights. "The schools make a presumption that the child is a racist, that they’re carrying the flag for racist reasons," Lyons said, adding that this is not necessarily the case.
The kids at Richmond Hills Middle School say they will abide by the ban while the lawyers hash out the dispute in court.
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