The Cambridge School District has banned wearing or displaying Confederate flags or imagery on school property.
The updated policy is in the student dress section of a 2020-21 family handbook approved by the school board on July 20.
The family handbook is issued every year at the elementary, middle and high schools, and outlines expectations for students and visitors in those buildings.
“We want our school to be inviting and welcoming to all students,” said Cambridge High School principal Keith Schneider. “We’re not going to allow those things in our building that divide us.”
Schneider said this policy addition is part of a larger effort in Cambridge to improve racial equity in the schools.
The school board began talking about equity and inclusion on June 15, after George Floyd of Minneapolis died of asphyxiation on May 25 after a white police officer allegedly knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.
The board discussed ways to possibly improve racial equity in Cambridge, by evaluating its history curriculum, updating its bullying policy and creating more equity-related professional development for staff.
“There is a movement around the country to remove the Confederate flag. This is not just a Cambridge thing,” Schneider said. “It was time that we put that in specifically, given the circumstances of the day.”
“With all of the attention the Confederate symbol has undergone this summer we felt it was important to remove any ambiguity in our policy,” agreed Superintendent Bernie Nikolay.
Schneider said administrators felt that Confederate imagery was offensive, especially to students of color.
“We want this place to be safe, especially for our students of color. We don’t want our students of color to be fearful in our (schools),” Schneider said. “We don’t want to see that material in any of our buildings.”
“It is the position of the school district that these images are distracting symbols of hate and bigotry and have no place in our schools,” Nikolay said in an email.
Last year’s high school handbook had language banning offensive materials, saying students should avoid “anything that displays messages or symbols relating to drugs, sex, alcohol, profanity, genitals, violence (weapons) or are demeaning to any one person or group of persons, or that pose a disruption.”
Schneider said this year, administrators named Confederate symbols specifically in the policy, to make it enforceable. The policy is meant to “reduce that grey area” and “be very clear of what we do (and do not) want to have on campus,” Schneider said.
“When it’s left up to interpretation...people can interpret it differently,” Schneider said. “We wanted to be very specific. We wanted to point that out in particular,” Schneider said.
Schneider said there have been past incidents of high school students displaying Confederate flags on vehicles, or wearing them on clothing, and students were asked to remove the symbol.
While Schneider called it “typically a high school issue,” Cambridge will be enforcing the policy at its elementary, middle and high school.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Schneider said. “We hope to get better every year.”