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South Georgia high school rallies to keep Rebel theme. Is this the right battle?

Despite the contention by parents and community members that the most important element in education is the classroom, it’s the extraneous stuff that galvanizes people into action.

An example is the escalating hoopla over school bans on Confederate flags and symbols.

An estimated 500 people crowded a school board meeting in Springfield, Ga., Tuesday to protest a NAACP campaign to get Effingham County High School to stop calling its sports teams the Rebels and playing "Dixie" at games.

If the topic were improving the school's math performance -- I checked. It could use improving. -- would even 50 people have shown up? Would 15?

While Effingham County High stopped officially using a Confederate soldier caricature long ago, the symbol apparently still crops up. The local NAACP is asking the school board to abandon the Rebel theme altogether.

As the AJC reported:

State NAACP president Francys Johnson released a statement earlier this week demanding Effingham County High School stop using the nickname Rebels because of the word’s connection with the Confederacy during the Civil War. He and supporters also want the school near Savannah to remove any other symbols that emerged during that era and are deemed by some as racially offensive.

“It’s time for the Confederate flag and the glorification of rebel culture that fought to maintain slavery and Jim Crow as an economic and social order to surrender. If we want closure on a 150-year-old chapter in American history, we must unite under the American flag as true patriots,” said Johnson, who suggested the school rename its teams “Patriots.”

Johnson said students also run the field with a large Confederate flag as the band plays Dixie.

The Charleston County, S.C., School District just prohibited students from displaying the flag emblem on campus. The county’s student code of conduct for this year states, “in light of a year marred with racially divisive and tragic events” students cannot wear “clothing, jewelry or other apparel bearing the image of the Confederate flag.”

Citing their authority to prohibit clothing or symbols that could be disruptive, schools have outlawed many images, including swastikas, Ku Klux Klan emblems, Malcolm X symbols and Confederate flags. And even the American flag.

As the LA Times reported:

Last March, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a free-speech appeal from several Northern California high school students who were told they could not wear a shirt emblazoned with an American flag on the Cinco de Mayo holiday. The court's action had the effect of upholding school officials who said they acted because they feared an outbreak of fighting between white and Mexican American students.

The NAACP request to Effingham High has sparked a petition to preserve the Rebels.

The petition, which has already drawn more than 7,000 signatures, says: “NAACP is coming into effingham county to try and remove the rebels from the high school. This is our county. We don't associate being a rebel as a symbol of racism. For us is is about being proud to come from effingham county high school. Our tradition… Everyone who has signed this I want to remind what this is about. This is about school pride and tradition. We are not here to cause problems. We are not here to support racism or hate. This petition does not associate it's self with anything of the sort.”

(Please note I did not correct the grammatical errors in the petition.)

Is this issue worth it?

Does it matter whether Effingham County High students run onto the field as Rebels or Patriots?

Shouldn't it matter more whether they run into the future with the academic skills to win at a UGA or Tech? 

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.