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LAS CRUCES – In the weeks after Indigenous Peoples Day, Camino Real Middle School students begin a new trend: wearing flags as capes.
But when one student donned the Confederate flag on school grounds, administrators had seen enough.
Camino Real Principal Michelle Harris said the trend of wearing flags as capes was banned the week before Thanksgiving break.
Harris said the flag-wearing frenzy led to name calling and division between students and called it an "educational distraction."
"Unfortunately, some of the flags, the type of flags that came were maybe not appropriate," Harris said.
She said the school has not banned flags completely, it has only banned students from wearing flags as capes.
"What the kids were doing is they were wearing capes, so as you know, that's not an appropriate way to display a flag," Harris said.
How it started
Harris said the trend began within a social studies class studying Indigenous Peoples Day and Christopher Columbus and discussing the flags on the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Some students were inspired to bring in their own flags.
Camino Real seventh-grader Niomi Herndon, 12, said she first saw a classmate wearing a flag as a cape when a student came to school donning a transgender pride flag — a flag with alternating pink, blue and white stripes.
Subsequently, Niomi started seeing classmates draping other flags over their backs, including the Thin Blue Line American flag and the Confederate flag.
"I saw somebody with a Confederate flag and that was just crazy, because that was like a step way too far," Niomi said.
"The Confederate flag, which is just plain … racist, that is not acceptable in a school setting," Niomi said. "Principal Harris saying that it was a distraction is kind of just an excuse for saying that she didn't know how to handle the situation as to talking to these kids."
In the 1940s and throughout the Civil Rights era, the Confederate battle flag began to rise in popularity. Even though it was a symbol of white supremacy to many, it served as a romanticized emblem of a lost Southern way of life to others. In recent years, many Confederate statues and symbols displayed across the country have been removed following demands for racial equality.
Niomi said that she and some other students didn't agree with the blanket flag ban. She said that flags, including LGBTQ flags, are a great way for students to express themselves, but there are some flags that not everyone can agree with.
"What my school did in response was — instead of just banning that flag or talking to those students — was just to ban all flags.… That kind of set some students and teachers off in a rage."
Harris said she isn't sure how long the ban will be in place. She said the school will continue to observe how students are reacting and go from there.
"It's important to encourage the kids to express themselves, but there's a way and a time to do that that's appropriate and respectful to all different types of people," Harris said. "We had to make the decision not to wear the flags to school, but we do encourage making a flag, talking about them. All those things still occur in classrooms. It hasn't taken away from the curriculum that we normally teach them."
Harris said Camino Real will encourage different ways of studying flags. In the original class where the flag discussion started, Harris said students are now making their own flags.
She also explained this is an opportunity for Camino Real administrators and teachers to reflect on student needs.
"When they get to be about middle school and above, they're starting to really form opinions and they strongly want to advocate those opinions," Harris said. "How do we do that in such a way that being respectful of their opinions? And how do we guide their thinking in such a way that can get them to think, a little bit more global in terms of cause and effect?"
According to Las Cruces Public Schools spokeswoman Kelly Jameson, there have not been issues with flags at other schools in the district.
This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Flag-wearing frenzy leads to a ban at Camino Real Middle School