West Brunswick students disciplined after one displayed Confederate flag

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West Brunswick principal Brock Ahrens delivered a message of 'unity, tolerance and civility' following Wednesday's incident involving a student displaying and wearing a Confederate flag at lunch.
West Brunswick principal Brock Ahrens delivered a message of ‘unity, tolerance and civility’ following Wednesday’s incident involving a student displaying and wearing a Confederate flag at lunch.

Five West Brunswick High students have been disciplined for an on-campus disruption Wednesday that erupted when a student displayed a Confederate flag in the school’s courtyard and cafeteria.

Brunswick County school district spokeswoman Jessica Swencki said she could not disclose how the five students were involved in the incident, but did confirm that one of them revealed the flag, which he wore at one point as a cape, during a lunch period.

Swencki acknowledged that the Confederate flag, oft considered a symbol of racism, “evokes strong emotions” but said that a public school system cannot engage in that level of discourse.

“The issues we struggle with as a society land squarely on the doorsteps of our public schools,” she wrote in a press release, adding in a follow-up phone interview that district leaders were tasked with ensuring “safe and orderly environments, not to debate social issues.”

It’s a distinction Swencki said is important, due to the divisive nature of the Confederate flag and questions of First Amendment rights. School officials responded specifically to the disruption caused by the symbol, she said, as outlined in the district’s Student Code of Conduct.

That handbook “specifically addresses disruptions the educational environment, which is what occurred yesterday at West Brunswick High School,” she noted. “It just so happens that the catalyst for this disruption was the display of the Confederate flag…”

According to the code of conduct, “inappropriate dress” is listed under examples of disruptive behavior, the punishment for which can include suspension.

While dress code violations are not uncommon, Swencki said, this particular incident is an unusual one for Brunswick County Schools, and one that has been a cause of concern among parents, students and the community surrounding the Shallotte school.

To address that concern, West Brunswick principal Brock Ahrens delivered a message to the school Thursday morning that this singular incident “does not define” the school.

“With your help our school has worked very hard to build a culture of unity, tolerance and civility. We must continue to work together,” Ahrens said. “This incident should bring our communities together, not to perpetuate a problem but to engage in civil conversations about solutions to the larger societal issues our children are grappling with. These issues simply cannot be resolved through our public schools.”

Swencki said Ahrens made similar statements to about a dozen unsettled parents, who showed up Thursday to speak with school officials. Superintendent Les Tubb was also at West Brunswick to talk with parents, students and staff.

“I don’t know what side [the parents] were there to represent. I think they were there just as concerned parents,” Swencki said.

She also confirmed that a group of West Brunswick students arrived donned in all black in response to a Facebook campaign launched last night that called for the dress as a way to show school administration that racism will not be tolerated.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.