GULFPORT, MISS. — A school board in this Gulf Coast city, striking a note of support for student rights, has overturned a controversial decision that prevented a Jewish student from wearing a Star of David necklace to school.
The Harrison County School Board voted Aug. 23 to exempt religious symbols from its policy prohibiting students from wearing anything that could be viewed as a gang symbol.
The reversal comes even as schools across the US grapple with ways to improve campus safety and beef up security - a trend that has prompted students and civil libertarians to protest that constitutional rights are being trampled by fear of violence.
Security officials had told school board members here that some gang symbols incorporate six-pointed stars, and that the Star of David could be confused as such.
"After consideration and a lot of soul searching, I think it's justifiable that he and any other student get to express their religion," board member T.J. Harder said.
The parents of 11th-grader Ryan Green had asked school officials to reconsider the policy, emphasizing that the Star of David was a religious symbol, not a gang symbol.
On Aug. 16, the board had unanimously upheld the antigang policy. But pressure and national attention mounted after its decision, and the board met last week with members of the Jewish community and decided to reconsider its vote.
"We realized that it infringed on freedom of religious expression, and that freedom supersedes the safety issue," says Randy Williams, the board's president.
Tom Green, Ryan's father, said, "As a father to a son, this is the best principle I could teach him: Stand up for your rights."
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