Students Fight to Wear Confederate Flag Shirts; Nixa Schools Keep Ban, Cite Past Racism

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Part of the shirt sparking controversy. - COURTESY OF JODIE SNIDER.
  • Courtesy of Jodie Snider.
  • Part of the shirt sparking controversy.

One year ago, Colby Snider, a seventeen-year-old Nixa resident, died from carbon monoxide poisoning. His younger brother and friends wanted to wear t-shirts to Nixa High School on the anniversary of his death this month to honor the late teenager, who would have turned nineteen this August. Nixa Public Schools, however, would not let them. Why?

The shirts have confederate flags on them.

"The rebel flag doesn't cause hate. People cause hate," Jodie Snider, mother of Colby, tells Daily RFT. "To all of us, it's about being from the south.... This is about being southern, living the southern way. It's not about whether you're black or white."

Snider says the shirts are in no way meant as a symbol of hate and that it's important to her and her family that they wear the flag (photos below) in memory of her son. School officials in Nixa, which is twelve miles south of Springfield, see it very differently -- and cite a history of racism in defense of their policy.

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The schools have an explicit ban on students wearing or bringing the flags on school property -- and despite a push from Snider and supporters over the last few weeks for an exception on the May anniversary of Colby's death, the rule remains in place.

"The policy was developed after the confederate battle flag was used in various racial incidents," Zac Rantz, communications director for Nixa Public Schools, says in a statement sent to Daily RFT yesterday. "This policy first stemmed from events that occurred in the mid-1990's and has been reaffirmed by boards since that time because the confederate battle flag has continued to be used in racial threats against students."

Colby Snider. - COURTESY OF JODIE SNIDER.
  • Courtesy of Jodie Snider.
  • Colby Snider.
Friends gathered wearing the shirts. - COURTESY OF JODIE SNIDER.
  • Courtesy of Jodie Snider.
  • Friends gathered wearing the shirts.

He explains in his statement, full version below, that non-white families in the Nixa area were harassed both inside and outside of the school. Suspects defaced lockers, made threats, posted signs over water fountains, hung nooses from rearview mirrors, dangled an effigy from a bridge -- and more. And people would drive around Nixa with confederate flags in their vehicles and would "harass minorities." Ultimately, he says, "many families who were being harassed and threatened chose to leave Nixa. It was even worn at various school sporting events, which caused racial tension with other schools."

Harassment has happened as recently as this school year, he says, which is why the policy remains in place.

The Snider family, however, emphasizes that the use of the flag has nothing to do with any messages of hate -- and that the shirts say, "HERITAGE...NOT HATE." Here's a large version, courtesy of Jodie Snider.

colby_snider_shirt.jpg

"They say that there is a lot of racism in this school," she says. "I've been here for ten years. I don't see it."

Snider says that incidents from years ago don't justify a ban today.

"I don't have a problem with the fact that they are banning something, but they need to have a legitimate, good reason to do it," she argues.

Car with confederate flag in honor of Colby. - COURTESY OF JODIE SNIDER.
  • Courtesy of Jodie Snider.
  • Car with confederate flag in honor of Colby.

When school officials blocked them from entering school with these shirts on, her younger son Collin, age fifteen, said, "'I'm not taking this shirt off today, not for you, not for anybody,'" she recalls, adding that officials took bumper stickers and flags off of some of their trucks as well.

Continue for more of our interview with Jodie Snider and the full response from Nixa School officials.

Collin Snider. - COURTESY OF JODIE SNIDER.
  • Courtesy of Jodie Snider.
  • Collin Snider.

"He should be able to honor his brother," says Snider, who says the two boys were very close.

When he showed up with the flag shirt, the school sent Collin home, she says. "We felt like the school went way overboard."

Nixa School officials say they maintain a strict policy that these flags are not allowed on campus.

COURTESY OF JODIE SNIDER.
  • Courtesy of Jodie Snider.

Why is this flag important to her son's memory?

"It's Dukes of Hazzard-style stuff," she says, explaining that they like hunting, fishing, wearing cowboy boots and "being rednecks."

"That's just the way they are," says Snider, who also has a nine-year-old daughter and toddler boy. "They don't believe in hurting other people."

Snider spoke at a school board meeting last week, but the policy is not changing. Snider says she is going to remain active fighting this and next anniversary, her son will wear the shirt again -- and skip school if necessary.

COURTESY OF JODIE SNIDER.
  • Courtesy of Jodie Snider.

Quoting her son and mentioning the fact that "It's okay to be gay" shirts are allowed in schools, she adds, "Why do I have to be tolerant of everyone else's view and no one has to be tolerant of mine?"

Rantz's statement explains that in this category, schools ban confederate flags and swastikas. "While students' rights are limited in schools, they do have certain free speech rights. So, just because something is offensive does not mean it is banned. When the symbol is used in a way that threatens students and it results in a material and substantive disruption to the educational environment where students are afraid to come to school, then it is not allowed."

Here's a video interview with the family, followed by the full school response.

Here's the statement from Nixa school officials:

The policy was developed after the confederate battle flag was used in various racial incidents. This policy first stemmed from events that occurred in the mid-1990's and has been reaffirmed by boards since that time because the confederate battle flag has continued to be used in racial threats against students.

At that time non-white families in the Nixa area were harassed both inside and outside of the school. Lockers were defaced, threats were made, signs were posted over water fountains, nooses were hung from rearview mirrors, an effigy hung by a noose was dangled from a bridge, people would drive around Nixa with the confederate battle flags in their vehicles and would harass minorities, and ultimately many families who were being harassed and threatened chose to leave Nixa. It was even worn at various school sporting events, which caused racial tension with other schools.

This harassment has continued in various forms and has even occurred this school year, which is why the policy has been reaffirmed to this date....

Because the confederate battle flag was used in threats against students in Nixa Public Schools, it was deemed "racially inflammatory." Because it is still being used in that manner, the flag has continued to carry that definition....

The are the only two [potentially inciteful/disruptive symbols] that have been prohibited (confederate battle flag and swastika) at this time. Just because something is offensive does not mean it is not banned from the school district. While students' rights are limited in schools, they do have certain free speech rights. So, just because something is offensive does not mean it is banned. When the symbol is used in a way that threatens students and it results in a material and substantive disruption to the educational environment where students are afraid to come to school, then it is not allowed. So, if a symbol would meet those criteria in Nixa Public Schools, the district would add it to the list.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

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