PEARLAND, Texas – The Brazoria County chapter of the NAACP, along with other community leaders and parents of students enrolled in Pearland High School, expressed outrage over a photograph showing a group of students walking the hallway Friday, with at least one student wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the Confederate flag.
The picture, shared by a parent on social media, also showed another student wearing a hat with the Confederate flag.
“This is very upsetting,” said Eugene Howard, president of the Brazoria County chapter of the NAACP.
Howard added the picture was heartbreaking, intimidating and hateful toward students of color because of what he said the shirt represents.
“The Confederacy was a group of domestic terrorists that wanted to destroy America. Period," Howard said. "They fought to own people who look like me.”
Parents echoed Howard’s sentiments, alleging the act was meant to induce fear among students of color on campus.
“This is not so much about being politically incorrect or racial insensitivity. This is about security at the end of the day, isn’t it? The security of our children,” exclaimed Harvey Wolff, a parent of two students enrolled in Pearland High School.
Dozens of parents told KPRC 2 their children either notified them or texted them pictures of the group walking the hallway Friday morning. Yet, despite what they allege were obvious intentions among the group, parents said the administration at Pearland High School didn’t act soon enough.
“From 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. this child was allowed to walk the campus, the hallways of this school and nothing was done about it?” asked Felicha Jones, owner and founder of Smart Scholars Foundation, an organization that works to empower area youth through education. “It wasn’t until 10:30 a.m. that the child wearing the Confederate flag was brought into the office and then asked -- asked, mind you -- to go home and change clothes.”
Parents said the shirt and hat, coupled with the observation that at least two students in the photograph are not wearing a mask, is a violation of the school district’s dress code.
KPRC 2 reviewed the policy, and confirmed masks are required to be worn on campus. The shirt, parents said, falls within the stipulation that “[shirts] may not be worn in a way that reflects gang affiliation, contraband, or creates a distraction.”
Parents considered the shirt and hat a distraction and claimed they called Pearland Independent School District’s administrative office multiple times Friday, although no one responded to their requests for comment on the matter.
KPRC 2 received a response from the school district Friday afternoon, confirming the clothing violated the dress code.
“Per the Pearland ISD dress code, apparel or accessories which include cultural divisiveness and racial intolerance may not be worn. Appropriate disciplinary action has taken place in accordance with the Student Code of Conduct,” Kim Hocott, executive director of communications for Pearland ISD, said in the statement. “We want to be clear that all students, faculty and staff are welcome at Pearland ISD. We teach and model tolerance for all, and the diverse community of Pearland promotes a level of inclusiveness for which we are proud.”
Howard said the statement didn’t go far enough. He demanded Pearland ISD Superintendent John Kelly address Friday’s incident, as well as what he said were other acts of racism within the school district.
“Dr. Kelly, this is one incident too many," Howard said. "It is time for you to head-on address this, not with superficial statements because we’ve asked you as the NAACP to partner with us in the George Floyd initiative that would bring about the approved African American literature that would teach children why the Confederate flag is such a bad demonstration and why it’s such a bad marker of American history.”
Pearland ISD’s dress code itself was revisited following another controversy in 2019, involving employees at Berry Middle School coloring in a black student’s haircut with a permanent marker. A federal lawsuit was filed against three Pearland ISD employees following that incident. Moreover, following that ordeal, parents said they pushed for the school district’s dress code policy to change.
“That’s what started that whole dress code revolution, which is great," said Melissa Wilson, a parent. “It did phenomenally, but of course now you have some dips in the road here.”
Those dips in the road, parents said, hurt students by distracting them from learning.
“I am a recently retired military officer and after seeing what our country has the potential to be, the potential to do, I refuse to subject them to this,” Wolff said.