Lessons Learned

Confederate Flag Displayed at West Henderson.

The Confederate flag was brought to West Henderson High School in Henderson County by two students on February 8, 2023, and many people are seeking answers, expressing their concerns, and calling for accountability.

A photo that surfaced on Facebook shows two students holding the ends of the Confederate flag and teacher Kelly King standing in front of them. The picture was sent anonymously to an LGBTQ support group on Facebook, and within minutes went mainstream—along with video footage that was soon in the hands of local news media. The publicity caused school administrators to try to respond swiftly to concerned parents.

A statement released by Henderson County Schools, sent out after West Henderson Principal Luke Manuel declined to comment to local media, reads: “On Feb. 8, 2023, a West Henderson staff member notified school officials of two students displaying a Confederate flag between the third- and fourth-period class change. Administrators immediately began an investigation that is still ongoing. Anyone with information regarding this incident is encouraged to speak with school administration.

“Henderson County Public Schools condemns behavior that violates the Student Code of Conduct or Henderson County Public Schools Board Policy. Additional information regarding this incident and disciplinary action are protected by student confidentiality laws.”

The students involved claimed it was their First Amendment right to use the Confederate flag to cover the posters of the Gay-Straight Alliance school support group. Comments posted on Facebook were a mix: some showed support for “heritage,” “freedom of speech,” and encouragement that read “boys fly the flag high,” and other commentators stated that “they were not surprised,” while alumni made remarks of being disappointed and embarrassed for the school.

Crystal Cauley, founder of an African American Parent Alliance known as AAPA, said in response to the shared post that having a parent-led advocacy group would help students when issues like this arise in the school system. AAPA was created last year when a middle school principal reached out to Cauley to help form a group to address the high number of suspensions that were occurring in 2021 and a range of disciplinary concerns involving African American students.

West Henderson’s teacher Brian Imparato wrote the following on Facebook regarding the flag incident:

“That classroom/poster they’re standing in front of is mine. I scared them off after this video ended. It’s a completely unacceptable backlash by students in response to the formation of our Gay-Straight Alliance. They have been disciplined by administration. I don’t know that it’s my place to step up as a white teacher but I would fully support an AAPA for West students/parents.”

In response to a follower on the thread he wrote, “I already know what it was really about. It was about my poster advertising a safe club for LGBT students. They have also been in trouble for ripping these posters down before. A poor choice was made before this: they actively chose the wrong choice a second time and chose to escalate the situation. I will accept an apology if they approach me with one. And I’d be happy to give them literature about the true meaning of their flag, in the words of those who created it.”

According to US News, West Henderson High School has an enrollment of 1,126 students in grades 9-12, of whom 2.3%, or about 26 students, are Black. The school, one of six area high schools, ranks fourth compared to the other high schools’ testing scores and graduation rate.

Healing Unconscious Bias

In celebration of Black History Month there will be an educational workshop by Crystal Cauley and DeBorah Ogiste on Saturday, February 18, 2023.

The workshop, “Take Action! Healing the Unconscious Bias in the Henderson County School System,” welcomes parents, teachers, and administrators to address topics that are impacting African American students, including microaggressions, and the need for AAPA.

The workshop will start at 1 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hendersonville at 2021 Kanuga Road. Free childcare will be available.