Advice on Banning Symbols and School Dress Codes
TO: Superintendents, Principals, and Headmasters
COPY: Education Partners
FROM: Rebecca Holcombe, Ed.D., Secretary of Education
SUBJECT: Advice on Banning Symbols and School Dress Codes
DATE: November 30, 2017
In the last month, several of you have written or asked for advice on how to respond to an increasing number of reports of students who are bringing Confederate emblems to schools and using them in ways that are disruptive to learning and offensive to other students. Specifically, several of you have asked whether schools have the right to “ban symbols” like Confederate flags.
As a former high school teacher, I know that many high school students love nothing so much as that which is forbidden. Unless the use of these symbols creates active disruption that destroys the ability of others to learn, it is perhaps more constructive to engage students in education both about the historical significance of these symbols and their cost to democracy.
Democracy is hard. It requires engagement to thrive. As much as possible, the best answer to hurtful speech is more speech. You cannot legislate away or prevent hateful or discriminatory thoughts. You must combat them instead with reason and affirmative protection of equity and civil rights. Your powerful speech on behalf of students in historically disadvantaged groups, and your efforts to help vulnerable students thrive and develop their own voices, will do more to promote democracy than any form of censorship. Silence in the face of hurtful speech makes us complicit.
Review additional Guidance on School Dress Codes.