The Confederate flag was banned at the Dolores schools this week, following an incident that school officials are calling a hate crime.
Dolores School District Superintendent Scott Cooper said the incident happened on Nov. 30 and was considered a "psychological hate crime." No one was physically hurt in the incident which involved a high school student allegedly targeting a high school teacher with a hateful display left in the classroom. Because of the nature of the incident, Cooper could not say much more about it.
But because of the alleged hate crime, Cooper sent out a school-wide memo last week to all staff banning the display of the Confederate flag and "any other symbols that represent and promote hate crimes" on school grounds.
"Hate crimes are defined by state law as one that involves threats, harassment or physical harm and is motivated by prejudice against someone's race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical or mental disability, and will not be tolerated," Cooper wrote in the memo. "I want everyone to feel safe in our schools."
Cooper said other symbols are not allowed at the school, such as the Swastika.
"Anything that promotes hate crimes is not allowed," Cooper said.
The Confederate flag, also known as the rebel flag, has been surrounded in controversy over the years. Its history stretches back to the American Civil War, fought from 1861 to 1865 between the northern states and the southern slave states. The war's origin was over slavery. The war was also the deadliest war in American history with 620,000 individuals killed.
Cooper said he has seen a rise in the flag being displayed recently, on clothing, accessories and book covers.
"If the flag is being used for education, it is fine," Cooper said. "But it's just too close to a history of racism."
Cooper continued that there isn't a direct connection between the hate crime itself and the Confederate flag and added that the flag has been banned in some southern U.S. high schools.
"I have learned from the past," Cooper said of the incident. "That you can't ignore this type of activity. Dolores is too great to hate."
Cooper said he hopes that this action will begin a community-wide discussion.
In fact, on Wednesday, the school district's website, www.dolores.k12.co.us, posted a letter from Dolores High School Principal Brandon Thurston under the heading "Dolores is too great for hate."
The letter read as follows:
"Every year, thousands of Americans are victims of such hate crimes. Each one of these crimes has a ripple effect in our communities. The pain and injustice of such crimes tear at the fabric of our democratic society, creating fear and tensions that ultimately affect us all.
Schools are not immune from such intolerance and violence. Teenagers and young adults account for a significant proportion of the country's hate crimes - both as perpetrators and as victims. Hate-motivated behavior, whether in the form of ethnic conflict, harassment, intimidation, or graffiti, is often apparent on school grounds. Hate violence is also perpetrated by hate groups, which actively work to recruit young people to their ranks.
The good news is that children are not born with such attitudes; they are learned. It is possible for schools, families, law enforcement, and communities to work together to prevent the development of the prejudiced attitudes and violent behavior that lead to hate crimes. Prejudice and the resulting violence can be reduced or even eliminated by instilling in children an appreciation and respect for each other's differences, and by helping them to develop empathy, conflict resolution, and critical thinking skills. By teaching children that even subtle forms of hate are inherently wrong, we can hope to prevent more extreme acts of hate in the future.
It is our responsibility to look out for the safety and well being of our students and staff. The Dolores Schools are banning all symbols of hate including, but not limited to, Black Power Fist, Confederate Flag, Iron Cross, Swastika, and others. In addition to banning symbols of hate, the instruction of tolerance is a critical component of character education delivered through our Home Room and Career Advisory classes. Students will be involved in critical thinking exercises to identify various manifestations of hate throughout history and stereotyping that occurs in their own lives, in the media, literature, music, movies and elsewhere. Students will also be learning what they can do to reduce incidents of intolerance and that their choices and actions can make a difference."
A mother of a 17-year-old boy at the Dolores High School, was upset following the blast of letters and emails regarding the Confederate flag and the alleged hate crime.
Brenda Hindmarsh said her son drives a truck with the Confederate flag painted on the tailgate.
"A lot of people assumed my son was involved because he has the flag on his truck. He wasn't involved," she said.
Her son is now required to park his truck off campus.
Hindmarsh said her son painted the flag on his truck for reasons far from hatred and racism.
"He put it on there because he is a rebellious teenager," she said.
Hindmarsh added that she and her son are fans of the TV show "The Dukes of Hazzard," which ran in the early 1980s featuring a couple of young men driving their custom 1969 orange Dodge Charger with the Confederate flag painted on the hood.
"My main concern is about my son's reputation and how he may have been implicated."