Tue | Mar 19, 2019

School suspends student for wearing Confederate flag shirt

Published:Friday | May 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM

MISSOULA, Montana (AP):

A Montana high school student has been disciplined for continuing to wear a Confederate flag sweatshirt after administrators requested that he stop wearing it.

Mitchell Ballas was suspended on Tuesday after wearing the sweatshirt to Big Sky High School every day since last week, the Missoulian reported.

The 17-year-old Missoula student said the flag is misunderstood. He said he is wearing the display to stand up for students' freedom of speech.

"The school is in the wrong for saying they can dictate to me wearing this sweatshirt," Ballas said. "They're saying it's offending kids and it's derogatory and all that, but it's not. It's my First Amendment right."

Ballas started wearing the sweatshirt last week, and he took it off after he was asked, he said. He continued to wear it during the following days and was given two days of detention last Friday, he said.

Ballas continued to wear it this week, resulting in a suspension on Tuesday.

"Tomorrow, I'm going to wear the sweatshirt again, and if they suspend me longer, they suspend me longer, but I'm not going to give in to them," Ballas said on Tuesday. "What they're doing is wrong, and I won't allow it."

Principal Natalie Jaeger said that she can't comment on matters related to specific students, but she noted that several students had been displaying the flag on clothing and cars over the last month. A few students and parents have disagreed with administrators over the flag's meaning, she said.

About 30 students have told school administrators that they feel anxious or afraid because of the flag displays, Jaeger said.

The school handbook and dress code does not appear to prohibit wearing the symbol, Ballas said.

The school's policy, however, states that if a student's behaviour "constitutes a disruption of the learning environment", administrators can reserve the right to discipline students "regardless of where or how the specific behaviour occurs".