By Caitlin Switzer
MONTROSE–(November 13, 2013) No teachers were in sight, but a classroom’s-worth of students milled about at the Montrose High School Auto shop parking lot this morning, solemnly encircling a set of three vehicles adorned with the “Southern Cross” Flag.
“We are doing this because the Montrose High School Chieftain called us racists,” said student Ashley Wood.
When asked what she would tell an African-American student who happened on the scene, Wood responded, “I would say that this flag represents our Southern heritage; it does not represent racism.”
“I like it because if it pisses people off, it’s good,” said student Jeffrey Baldwin. “It doesn’t stand for what people think it stands for—it’s not the Rebel Flag.”
When questioned about the situation, Montrose County School District Re-1J Superintendent Mark MacHale said that he is not concerned about the presence of the Confederate Flag on school property.
“I have a lot of experience with this issue,” MacHale said. “I am a Southerner, and I am a Veteran. Free speech is uncomfortable; but the people who fought in the Confederate War feel just as proud of their flag as those who fought for the U.S. At the end of the day, it is a free speech issue.”
The Confederate Flag means many things to many people, he said.
“We live in a free country,” MacHale said. “Free speech can be uncomfortable. But the Confederate Flag is very complicated; it does not mean hate speech to certain people. Sometimes people are just going to be offended. But so far, nobody has come to us to say they feel intimidated.”
Sparking the controversy was an editorial in the most recent issue of the school’s award-winning newspaper, the MHS Chieftain, concerning the trend of displaying the “Southern Cross” flag at Montrose High School, a flag that is slightly different in color than that of the Confederacy. The editorial at one point referred to the Ku Klux Klan as a “white trash hate group,” and called for those who profess Southern Pride to adopt a new symbol that does not evoke a history of racial intolerance. Chieftain co-editors Abby Padilla and Kaylynn Miller published supporting articles as well, including “First Amendment Protects Hate Speech,” by Padilla, and a “Brief history of the Confederate Flag,” by Miller.
Former RE-1J Teacher Dave Bowman expressed a viewpoint opposite to that espoused by MacHale.
“I would hope that, through our education system, we are explaining that there are symbols in this country that are no longer appropriate,” Bowman said. “It is no more appropriate to fly a Confederate Flag on public school grounds than it would be to fly a Nazi Swastika. I would hope our public schools have enough backbone to say no to Confederate Flags on school property.”