PHOENIX (USA TODAY) -- When members of the student council at an Arizona high
school organized a schoolwide "Redneck Day" and encouraged classmates to
dress - and spoof - accordingly, they hoped to build school spirit
leading up to prom week.
Instead, "Redneck Day" at Queen Creek
High School has angered African-Americans and civil-rights leaders and
touched off a debate about free speech, social stereotypes and good
Tom Lindsey, superintendent of the Queen Creek Unified
School District, said the only intent of Wednesday's event was to
satirize the A&E reality TV show "Duck Dynasty," which follows a
family of duck hunters and entrepreneurs from West Monroe, La.
some students and their family members weren't amused. Among them: the
Rev. Ozetta Kirby, pastor of Holy Trinity Community AME Church in Mesa
and vice president of the East Valley chapter of the NAACP.
"I'm sitting here crying and praying," said Kirby, whose grandson Marcus Still is a 16-year-old junior at the school.
thing really got to Marcus," Kirby said. "When you're in 11th grade,
that can break you down and make you feel at the bottom rung of the
whole society, where everybody is being jubilant. No kid should have to
go through that. We all know the connotation of 'redneck.' "
offensive to Kirby and others was that one student chose to wear a
Confederate flag - for many a grim reminder of slavery and segregation.
Confederacy represents the horrible institution of slavery, and that is
a direct attack on African-Americans," said Steve Montoya, a prominent
civil-rights attorney in Phoenix.
The Rev. Oscar Tillman,
president of the Maricopa County NAACP, who grew up in the 1940s in the
South, said: "Our community knows what that flag represents. ... A
school is supposed to be for education and showing people where we come
from, our history, and to try not to go back to some things."
said the student wearing the Confederate flag was pulled aside by an
assistant principal and asked to change his clothes.
"It was no ill intent," Lindsey said.
The student, who is from a state where the flag is more prevalent, did not see a negative connotation, the superintendent said.
was explained to him that in Arizona, we look at it differently,"
Lindsey said, adding that Redneck Day was mostly uneventful.
"We apologize to any people who, because of the word (redneck), were offended," Lindsey said.
Costello, director of the Teaching Tolerance program at the Southern
Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., said schools would do well to
adopt the slogan of physicians: Do no harm.
"Do no harm to a student's sense of identity," she said. "Everyone should feel welcome."
said she understands that Redneck Day was intended to bolster students'
sense of feeling good about school but said "they've chosen an event
that stereotypes an entire group of people, and under those
circumstances, they should hardly be surprised that they also offend
She said a student wearing a Confederate flag could easily argue that he's "playing a role, and he doesn't mean it."
"But the flag is a very potent symbol," Costello said, "and the school facilitated that."
said the school should do two things: "Open up a dialogue about why
this was so offensive to some people, and second, to really start
thinking through the kinds of events they sponsor to build school
She added that probably some students' families can be
traced to the Appalachians, and "maybe they don't feel so great about
being called rednecks."
Costello predicted that some who objected will be told they are too sensitive.
think every one of us hates it when we're told, 'Don't feel that way,'"
she said. "But they are honestly offended by it. It reflects a very bad
chapter in their personal or cultural experience. That needs to be
acknowledged, discussed and accepted."
For his part, attorney Montoya said students have a First Amendment right to wear a Confederate flag and engage in free speech.
he warned that the line between free speech and harassment is easily
breached and said a district could be held liable for allowing a
racially hostile education environment.
"Those schools are paid
for by everyone, including African-Americans and other minorities, and
they have the right to attend school free of harassment," Montoya said.
won a case more than a decade ago when he sued Tempe Union High School
District on behalf of an African-American girl who had asked to read a
text other than "Huckleberry Finn," which contains numerous instances of
a racial slur.
Her request was denied, and students in Tempe began to use that book as a vehicle to racially harass the girl, Montoya said.
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Montoya's client.
He said it was the first case in the country to recognize a claim under
federal civil-rights laws for a racially hostile educational
"I wish the administrators good luck," Montoya said of Queen Creek school officials. "They have tough jobs."
week in Kent, Wash., Sunnycrest Elementary School had scheduled "White
Trash Wednesday," in which barbecue would be served on trash-can lids.
The event was canceled Tuesday after parents objected.