Swastikas, Confederate flag banned in new Durham public school dress code

Public schools in Durham unveiled a new dress code Thursday, banning apparel featuring the swastika, Confederate flag and KKK symbols, among other offensive or controversial symbols.

The ban in the North Carolina city, voted for unanimously by the Durham County Board of Education, also prohibits items that are “reasonably expected to intimidate” students based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or other affiliations.

Durham Public Schools superintendent Bert L'Homme said the policy is aimed at ensuring students’ safety, and is designed to push back against racial and religious hatred and oppression.

"I think that this policy is a message to our students and to our community and to our families how important their safety is," L’Homme told WTVD. "And not just physical safety but psychological safety and emotional safety."

L’Homme said the symbols could disrupt schools, and he expects more protests in or near schools in the wake of a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va. two weeks ago.

"These things, historically, were meant for hate, or at some point in history, meant hatred," Board Chair Mike Lee said of the symbols.

District spokesperson Chip Sudderth said the district has considered if the new apparel rule will affect students' rights to freedom of speech.

"Principals have authority to keep the school environment safe and inclusive and welcoming" and “to deal with student expression that has a reasonable chance of causing disruptions or intimidation in the classroom,” Sudderth said. “This isn't about regulating speech, it's about keeping our classrooms focused on learning."

Other North Carolina school systems have implemented similar changes to their dress code, including Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro.

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The Durham board also voted 7-0 to remove Confederate war veteran and outspoken white supremacist Julian Carr’s name from the middle school building at Durham School for the Arts. The building once was the home of an all-white high school. Durham, home to Duke University, is where protesters toppled a Confederate statue in front of the old county courthouse Aug. 14. Several of the protesters who toppled the monument were later arrested.

Carr's actions and values "in no way reflect the safe and inclusive community that we are building in Durham Public Schools," L'Homme said. "We are under no requirement to continue to name any of our school buildings after white supremacists."

Workers began removing some of the plaques bearing Carr's name from the building Friday. L'Homme said the administration will review the names of all of its schools and school buildings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.