On first day back in school, Oakville High student wears Confederate flag mask

On first day back in school, Oakville High student wears Confederate flag mask

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

A student wore a Confederate flag mask to Oakville High School Tuesday that apparently went either unnoticed or unreported by teachers for two 90-minute classes, upsetting students who reported the mask to their parents.

The male student wore a mask with a prominent Confederate flag on it Tuesday, the first day back in classes for Mehlville School District students since November. As part of coming back to class under the blended/hybrid model in which half the students switch days attending in person, St. Louis County regulations require all students to wear face masks, as they have since the beginning of the year. If students do not have face masks, the district will provide one.

A student took a video of the fellow student in class and sent it to her mother, who called the school to complain and posted the video on social media.

The Confederate flag was one of the flags carried by members of a mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, one day short of two weeks before the student wore the flag to OHS.

“What type of message are you sending my child by allowing another child to sit in that class with this mask on?” said the mother in an interview with Fox 2.

Tamara Sunkett

Oakville High Principal Tamara Sunkett, who is black, sent an email to all parents about the incident and noted that an assistant principal investigated after the phone call and found that the student had already left the campus for the day for an “off-campus program.”

The Special School District of St. Louis County, which runs South County Technical High School where many students go for off-campus programs, said that no one wore a Confederate flag mask on the South Tech campus Tuesday.

Sunkett wrote in her letter to parents, “I want each and every one of our students to know that this is not a situation we take lightly. Confederate symbols are steeped in racism. This symbol and any such symbols of disrespect are offensive to our students and our staff and infringe upon our belief that everyone deserves the right to feel safe and respected in our school communities. … Lastly, I want to remind you of who we are as OHS Tigers! This is OurHouSe and we will remain unwaveringly committed to being a school of Character where everyone is valued and respected.”

The district declined to speak about discipline or personnel issues such as whether any teachers will be disciplined for not reporting the mask. In a statement, Superintendent Chris Gaines repeated much of what Sunkett had released to parents.

This is not a situation we take lightly. Confederate symbols are steeped in racism. This and any such symbols of disrespect are offensive to students and staff and infringe upon our belief that everyone deserves the right to feel safe and respected in our school communities,” Gaines said in the statement. “The matter has been addressed with the student and the student’s family. When the student returns to campus, he will not be allowed to wear the confederate flag face mask. Our dress code does not support clothing items that create a disruption on our campus.”   

Sunkett also noted in her email to parents, “I want to let our students know the matter has been addressed. We have made it quite clear that clothing that creates a disruption, including the confederate flag, is not allowed on our campus.”

Mehlville Board of Education President Kevin Schartner gave a statement on the incident at the beginning of the board meeting Thursday night. Schartner’s son Thomas graduated from Oakville High School last year and organized a drive-by Black Lives Matter car parade in Oakville last summer.

The Mehlville Board of Education was disappointed to hear about the incident that occurred at Oakville High School on Jan. 19,” Schartner said. “Our school district prides itself on being a district of choice that welcomes students of different races, nationalities and backgrounds. Every student has a story and brings value to our district. As Mehlville School District’s Portrait of a Graduate states, ‘We believe that all of our students should be critical thinkers, self-aware and ethical.’ Every day we see people living out these ideals both in our schools and across our community. When we see actions that fall short of our exceptions shows that we, the community, still have work to do. This Board of Education and our administration will continue to do our part by helping our schools focus on diversity, acceptance and kindness in the classroom and throughout our school district.”

Dress code prohibits distractions

Mehlville’s districtwide dress code policy states that students can be required to modify their clothing if it creates a distraction.

This is also not the first time that Mehlville and Oakville High’s dress code has made national news; Sunkett’s predecessor as principal, Jan Kellerman, was recorded at a freshman assembly the beginning of the school year in 2018 in a video that went viral, with parents also taking the video to the media to complain. Kellerman warned girls not to show their “boobs, bellies and butts,” in a speech that some thought was sexist and some supported.

The dress code also bans hats or head wraps unless they are part of a school-sponsored activity, and in the video posted by the parent, the student wearing the Confederate flag mask also wore a baseball cap, as did another student who was with that student.

The dress code specifically states that any clothing affiliated with drugs or gangs is prohibited, along with organizations “associated with violence, drugs, intimidation or other criminal activity.”