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Several students stage protest after a flag went missing from a truck while in the St. Helens High parking lot

PHOTO COURTESY OF JORDAN MARTIN - Jordan Martin, a sophomore at St. Helens High School, had a Confederate battle flag stolen from his truck on Wednesday, May 11. Martin filed a police report for the theft with the St. Helens Police Department.
On two separate occasions, students at St. Helens High School were asked to remove Confederate battle flags from their vehicles while parked on school property last week after the displays became disruptive to the classroom environment, the school district reported Monday, May 16.

“The St. Helens School District supports and observes the right of students to express themselves freely,” the press release said. “Under district policy that is based on state law, however, we on occasion place reasonable limits on such expression if it is likely to, or has, disrupted the learning environment.”

District staff indicated they had received reports that debates about the flag have started in the classroom, which has disrupted classes, the release said.

The Confederate battle flag and its association with Civil War-era slavery in the South remains controversial throughout the United States. Last year, the battle flag was removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds after a heated controversy about the flag and its significance following a mass shooting that killed nine black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church parishioners in Charleston. Dylann Roof, 21, was arrested for the crime, and documents attributed to him at the time indicated he wanted to start a race war.

Photos of Roof that surfaced after the shooting showed him posting with the Confederate battle flag, reigniting national debate about its symbolic significance.

The school district release also indicated that students at the high school complied with the request to remove the flags and no discipline resulted.

Jordan Martin, a sophomore, said he removed the flag, but said it was stolen from the back of his pickup truck later that day, Wednesday, May 11. The flag has been in his family for 15 years, Martin said, and represents his family’s heritage.

Martin filed a police report for the theft, but St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss said Martin was not able to provide any suspect information to pursue a lead in the case.

Martin and classmate Irene Espinoza, a junior, said he and several other students displayed Confederate battle flags on their vehicles off school property in protest Friday afternoon, May 13.

When asked what he hopes the ultimate outcome of the issue will be, Martin said, “Well first of all [I] want my flag back. But the school is taking away my right to fly what [I] want on my truck and [I’m] defending that right to fly my flag.”

Superintendent Scot Stockwell said he is unaware if the district has any specific policies that indicate what political or personal items can be displayed on a student or staff member’s vehicle while parked on school property.

St. Helens High School Principal BG Aguirre did not respond for requests for comment by press time Thursday.

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