After nearly a year of debate and deliberation, the Orange County Schools Board of Education unanimously approved a new dress code that specifically bans students from wearing the Confederate flag, the swastika or other symbols of oppression.
Board chairman Stephen Halkiotis said he was moved by the events at a white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.
“The tragic loss of a 32-year-old woman, an innocent human being,” Halkiotis said of Heather Heyer, who was killed when one of the white nationalists drove his vehicle into a crowd of counter-protesters. “The tragic loss of two Virginia State Troopers who were there to provide for the health, safety and welfare of all people and the City of Charlottesville cannot go unnoticed.”
The initial language of the dress code did not specifically name the Confederate flag or any other symbol of oppression but rather banned clothing and symbols that could cause a “substantial disruption” or items that could be “reasonably expected to intimidate other students.”
Halkiotis asked that language be added to explicitly ban material related to the “KKK, swastikas and the Confederate flag.”
Language was also added at a previous policy committee meeting to include protection for national origin, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age and religious affiliation.
The change to the dress code is a victory for the Hate Free Schools Coalition, which was formed with the goal of getting the Confederate flag out of Orange County Schools. Members of the group cheered when the final version of the dress code was passed.
Superintendent Todd Wirt said he met with principals to discuss the issue.
“I saw a unified desire, commitment and level of courage on the part of our principals and assistant principals to eliminate symbols of intimidation and hate in our schools,” Wirt said.
In an effort to implement the dress code as soon as possible, the board waived the need for a second reading, which would have pushed the final vote back to another meeting.