For many parents of Marana High School students it wasn’t Principal David Mandel’s decision to ban of the Confederate Flag that bothered them as much as the way he chose to do it. Parents were notified of Mandel’s decision in what appeared to be a deliberately vague and alarming letter.
Mandel wrote in part, “Over the past month we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of students and staff sharing concerns and students feeling unsafe as a result of the Confederate flag on the Marana High School campus. ….When an element of student speech, whether by symbolic representation or explicit utterance, presents a significant potential for disruption to the education of students and the work of the adults on campus, we are responsible to address the situation. To that end, we concluded, that the display and possession of the Confederate Flag poses a reasonable barrier to feelings of safety and sense of well-being for a large number of our students and staff. As a result, we worked in consultation with legal counsel to ensure we proceeded appropriately. In an effort to keep all students safe, a new rule has been put in place to eliminate this potential disruption on the Marana High School campus. As of Dec 13, the Confederate flag will only be displayed on campus as part of classroom curriculum.”
After the letter became news, the District elaborated and told the ADI in an email that there “have been physical altercations on the campus, anonymous threats reported to MHS administration regarding physical violence and/or property destruction relating to the display of Confederate flags, as well as racial comments made preceding physical contact between students, and flags have been stolen from vehicles during the school day.”
While Mandel’s letter appears to show respect for diverse views including those that view the Confederate flag in a positive light, some parents are concerned that Mandel’s arbitrary decision has put their kids at risk. They ask: what’s next? What if he decides that he can issue another edict to simply target another kid he deems “noncompliant?” What will be the next forbidden symbol, or attire?
Mandel’s decision to ban the flag is not a district-wide policy. It was not discussed in public. There was no chance for parents to share their concerns with the governing board members they elected.
According to Marana Unified School District, Director of Public Relations, Tamara Crawley, “This year, as disruptive behavior has occurred it was also individually addressed as aligned with our comprehensive discipline matrix. However, despite consequences and following of regular discipline processes, we have had students and parents who continued to be non-compliant, which grew beyond individual incidents to a greater campus-wide disruption….”
Mandel was well within his rights, and has a responsibility to maintain order. However, students on both sides of the issue are being harmed by an administration that is taking the easy way out and not working with kids or parents to iron out the problems. It is the kids, who displayed the flag, that were the victims of “physical altercations” while other kids were subjected to ugly epithets.
Yet we are supposed to take seriously an administration that punishes a young female student for wearing a small Confederate flag belt buckle to school. That act of defiance earned her in house suspension.
That student told the ADI: “To us the flag symbolizes our roots, how we choose to live our lives, how we were raised.” She said that when they call the Confederate flag the “battle flag,” it is not an “intimidation tactic it’s just what it is. The flag resembles a way of life that we choose to live. The southern life, hard working men and women who have strong feelings for the country we live in and we are often raised under the word of God, therefore are taught all people are equal and to live humbly. None of the students that are proudly flying this flag believe we are better than anyone else nor do we support acts of racial superiority. We are just living life the good ol’ country way.”
There is no reason to doubt her words. She appears to have said the very same words to the multiple outlets that have attempted to exploit the situation.
There is also little doubt that the battle over the flag at Marana is more about a struggle between the urban and rural students that occupy the same space. The struggle between the haves, and have nots. That struggle has as many symbols as it has places where the struggle exists.
Lagois was leaning against the truck, from which the Confederate flag flapped in the wind. The light-blue GMC also had the word, “redneck” written on the tailgate. The word, the senior said, represents a life of blue-collar workers, country folk and back roads.
Jose Mendez, 17, who was part of the group hanging out by the pickup across the street from the school, said their values must be accepted the same way they’re expected to accept values they don’t agree with.
Unfortunately, like Marana High School, too many of those places lack leaders who are willing to do the hard work of making people talk to each other, understand where each person is coming from, and examine how they can reconcile the differences.
Principal Mandel took the easy sleazy way out, and while he may have made a few kids feel safer, he made more kids feel less safe. Those kids and their parents will now have to wonder every day what’s next.