A program featuring the chronological history of 14 different flags from 1775 to present, including the Confederate flag, has been performed by students during assemblies at Bush Middle School in Tumwater many times.
“It’s been a longstanding tradition,” said Laurie Wiedenmeyer, a spokeswoman for the Tumwater School District. “…It’s been (presented) many, many years.”
But this year, the program, which was performed by a student leadership group during last week’s Veterans Day assembly, sparked controversy and prompted Tumwater School District officials to issue a public apology.
Wiedenmeyer said there was no change in the format of this year’s program from past years. She believes the public outrage about the program stems from changes in the “cultural and political climate” on how people view the Confederate flag.
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In recent months, schools and public institutions around the country have been grappling with controversy over the Confederate flag, which is considered by many as a hate symbol.
In fact, some school districts, including those in Durham, North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Virginia, and Hillsborough, Virginia, took steps to completely ban Confederate flags, swastikas and other threatening symbols from their campuses.
“The Confederate flag is to the black community as the Swastika is to the Jewish community,” said Gloucester County NAACP president Loretta Winters said after racial tension boiled after when a group of students wore Confederate flag shirts in response to a silent Black Lives Matter protest at a New Jersey school. “...It’s the flag used by the KKK, and they’re a terrorist group. … People need to be educated on what the Confederate flag stands for and what it means.”
John Bash, superintendent of the nearly 6,600-student Tumwater School District, said he doesn’t think a Confederate flag should be allowed on a school campus.
“Having the flag there at all was an act of insensitivity and failed to meet our standards for a safe, respectful, and culturally sensitive school environment,” Bash said during last Thursday’s meeting of the Tumwater School Board.
Due to a mix-up in how the students lined up, a student of color ended up holding the Confederate flag, he said. Bash told the School Board that he personally apologized to the student’s family. He also issued a public apology for anyone who was offended by the program.
“It’s my opinion that during these ceremonies, where we’re celebrating the heroic deeds of our veterans ... there is no place for this sort of controversial history teaching,” Bash said.
East Olympia Elementary School teacher Bruce Milliman told The Olympian he felt the Confederate flag’s presence at the assembly was in especially poor taste because Bush Middle School is named after black pioneer George Washington Bush.
Wiedenmeyer said she couldn’t comment on whether the teacher who led the flag program at Bush Middle School was disciplined, but noted that the district plans to provide additional training and resources to its staff on the issue.
“We are using this as a learning opportunity,” she said.