The school district won't ask Hayes Middle School eighth graders to wear badges displaying the Confederate flag during an annual Civil War lesson next year, Grand Ledge Public Schools Superintendent Brian Metcalf said Wednesday.
Metcalf said school officials haven't decided whether they'll continue to display Confederate flags in the classroom during the lesson in the future, or whether they'll alter other specifics of the lesson.
In a Lansing State Journal story Tuesday, Jacqueline and Mark Freeman shared their concerns about the month-long history lesson, during which Confederate flags are on display in a history classroom and on badges some students are being asked to wear in class.
Both Metcalf and Grand Ledge schools Board of Education President Kim Mulvenna said they weren't aware of any concerns about the flag's use during the lesson until Tuesday.
At least two other parents told the State Journal Wednesday they have objected this year to the Confederate flag's use during the lesson.
Trisha Kopulos said her son Khristian, who is black, told her the Confederate flags hanging in the classroom made him uncomfortable. He was assigned a badge bearing the Confederate flag and a character description. That description described the character's position on slavery as "assumes it's okay; blacks seem happy enough."
Kopulos said she then had a phone conversation with Taylor about it.
"The flag, to him, represents racism. He ended up being moved to the North," she said. "I said even if you move him, you're still going to have students uncomfortable with this."
Willie Works' said his son, who is also black, was one of them. "He was not happy about it," he said. "I emailed the teacher and asked that he be excused from the assignment."
Works said his son was given alternative assignments to work on in the class instead, but that he told Works some students wore their badges throughout the school day. Works said the lesson has "racial overtones."
"After I read about the Freemans I thought, 'I wasn't the only one that had an issue with it,'" he said.
Emily Richards, a Grand Ledge graduate who attends Great Lakes Christian College, said she took part in the lesson six years ago. She said when she took the class the lesson involved displaying the Union flag and the Confederate flag in the room and on badges students wear.
"Of all of the different history classes I've taken through Grand Ledge, this was the most educational and helpful," said Richards, who is white. "I distinctly remember being excited about class."
Richards, 20, said she never saw students object to the lesson when she took part, but believes her teacher would have listened to concerns if they had been voiced.
A number of alumni and parents have posted support for the lesson and the way it is taught on social media.
About 5% of the district's more than 5,000 students are black, while about 80% are white, according to state data. At the middle school, about 6% of students are black.
Mark Freeman said he took his concerns to school Principal Julie Taylor at the end of April, after his 14-year-old daughter, who is black, told him she had refused to wear a badge that displayed the Confederate flag.
The Freemans said they offered to pay for replacement badges for all the students. They said school officials offered to move their daughter to the group of students assigned to the Union Army, but never confirmed they would remove the Confederate flag from badges or from the classroom.
On Wednesday Metcalf said Taylor told him that a decision was made last month to replace the Confederate flag on student badges with colors that represent the North and South in the future.
"My understanding is that they had already told the parents they were not going to use the name badges in the future," he said.
Taylor didn't return messages seeking comment Wednesday. She told the State Journal Tuesday she's aware of the lesson and Mark Freeman's concerns, but declined to comment further.
Mark Freeman said Wednesday school officials never communicated to him or his wife any decision, and the couple was told they needed to contact the district's curriculum department.
"They said they would look into it, but we never received a call back," he said.
Mulvenna said Tuesday that the use of the Confederate flag should be reconsidered.
Metcalf said school officials plan to discuss that, but added, "I don't know how you're going to say, 'There's a battle flag of the Confederacy, but we're not going to show it to you.'"
He added that state law requires school districts to teach students about specific points in history, including the Civil War and the Confederate Army.
"This is controversial, but it's part of the curriculum," he said.
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