A Montana high school student was disciplined Tuesday for wearing a Confederate flag sweatshirt after school officials told him not to.
Mitchell Ballas, 17, was suspended after wearing the sweatshirt to Big Sky High School every day since last week. The student denies the flag represents hate and said he’s wearing it to stand up for students’ freedom of speech.
"The school is in the wrong for saying they can dictate me wearing this sweatshirt," Ballas said. "They're saying it's offending kids and it's derogatory and all that, but it's not. It's my First Amendment right."
The school handbook and dress code allows wearing the symbol, Ballas added.
But while the school doesn’t ban symbols, it can deem a student’s behavior “a disruption of the learning environment” and discipline students “regardless of where or how the specific behavior occurs.”
The teenager wore the controversial sweatshirt last week and took it off when asked by school administrators, he said. He was given two days of detention last Friday as he continued to wear it the next days.
This week, Ballas was suspended after wearing the sweatshirt. But despite the suspension, he promised to continue sporting the clothing.
"Tomorrow, I'm going to wear the sweatshirt again, and if they suspend me longer, they suspend me longer, but I'm not going to give in to them," Ballas said Tuesday. "What they're doing is wrong, and I won't allow it."
"What they're doing is wrong, and I won't allow it."
Principal Natalie Jaeger declined to comment on matters related to Ballas, but said multiple have been displaying the Confederate flag on clothing and cars over the last month. Some parents, he said, expressed disagreement with the school administrators over what the flag represents.
"Regardless of the intent of the students displaying the flag, the flag is a symbol in 2018 that is used to express racism and oppression, and that has no place in an educational environment," Jaeger said.
The principal added that about 30 students said they were afraid and anxious because of the flag displays.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.