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Scrawled words, controversial flag spark fear, anger at CHS

Between a gun scare and a controversial incident involving the Confederate flag, Claremont High School has had a difficult week.

On Wednesday, graffiti was found scrawled in a boys restroom in the 800 quad of the CHS campus indicating that a student planned to bring a gun to school the following day. The threat did not target a particular student or group of students, nor were any faculty or staff members mentioned.

The Claremont Police Department has determined that the graffiti does not represent a credible threat. Given today’s heightened wariness of school violence, however, the situation has received significant media attention. The story was aired on KCAL9 and on ABC7 Eyewitness News, among other TV news programs.

At 8 a.m. on Thursday, Claremont High School Principal Brett O’Connor emailed a statement to CHS parents, which was also forwarded to the COURIER. Out of “an abundance of caution,” he said, there would be an increased police presence as well as additional school staff and district administrators stationed on campus throughout the day.

It was evident during a 9 a.m. visit to the campus that many parents were heeding the adage, “It is better to be safe than sorry.” With many students kept home for the day, the usually crowded parking lot was half empty. A few of the vacant spots were occupied by two news vans.

The Claremont Police Department emphasizes that the safety of students, staff and faculty is “a primary concern.” Yesterday, four officers, one on a bicycle, spent the day patroling the CHS premises.

“While we do not believe the threat is credible, we still remind everyone to be ever-vigilant in their daily activities and to always report anything suspicious or out of the ordinary to their local police or sheriff’s department,” Claremont police urged in a Thursday-morning release.

They continue to investigate the incident and ask anyone with information regarding the graffiti to contact the Claremont Police Department or Claremont High School.

 

Flag makes untimely appearance

Last week, another incident had emotions running high among the Claremont High School community.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, March 12, the Class of 2014 gathered on the football field for the traditional senior class photo. As the picture is meant to be included in the center of the Wolfpack yearbook, students were cautioned to keep things classy and refrain from displaying any signs, banners or hand gestures.

Despite the warning, a few students came to the shoot equipped with small signs and banners. One group of boys brought a Confederate flag. The students held the flag at waist level for much of the shoot. It is not clear how many shots—snapped by a photographer standing on an elevated scissor lift—included the flag. 

When the photographer encouraged the students to blow off some steam in a “silly shot,” most of the kids contented themselves with hand gestures or funny faces. Several, however, hoisted the Confederate flag. At no time did the three CHS administrators supervising the photo spot the Confederate flag, according to Mr. O’Connor.

The situation was brought to the administration’s attention when a few “upset and offended” students notified them after the shoot. They acted quickly, according to a release sent to the CHS community as well as the COURIER last Friday. The administrators contacted the parents and guardians of the students holding the Confederate flag that same day “to inform them of what had occurred and that at investigation would follow.”

The students involved have been counseled and faced consequences, according to the release. Another student, who wished to remain anonymous, stated that the participating boys received a punishment under the category of “disruption,” which ranges from a detention to a suspension depending on the level of the offense. The student continued, “A lot of the student body, myself included, want a formal apology from these students and so a petition will continue for that.”

The photographer was able to capture many images that were appropriate for the school yearbook, so there is no need for a re-shoot. The offending image, however, has made its way onto various Facebook pages.

In the aftermath of the incident, students are engaging in what Mr. O’Connor characterizes as an “appropriate” and healthy debate over the meaning of the display.

The Confederate flag served as the official flag for the 11 states that seceded from the Union before or during the Civil War, asserting that the federal government was intruding on states’ rights.

One of the main rights in contention was the ability to keep slaves. As a result, many people view the Confederate flag—sometimes called the Southern Cross—as a sign of white supremacy. It is an impression that schools across the nation are taking seriously. Last year, two students from Tahoma High School in Washington were suspended after arriving at school wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Confederate flag.

Supporters of the Southern Cross assert that the controversy is due to over-zealous political correctness. They say that the Confederate flag is not a racist symbol but instead a regional one—a sign of Southern pride.

Both of these views were reportedly expressed in a forum held at CHS yesterday, in which students were encouraged to voice their opinions and concerns about the presence of the Confederate flag at a school photo shoot.

Mr. O’Connor has expressed his hope that the occurrence will serve as a learning experience.

“The actions of a handful of students displaying the Confederate flag at a large class photo were, at the minimum, disruptive and disrespectful to many students,” he wrote. “It is my hope that all CHS students will use this incident as an opportunity to dialogue and reflect on how our actions can be offensive and harmful to others.”

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

 

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