WALPOLE (CBS) – Affixed to an old tree, high above Walpole High School’s athletic fields, the large Confederate flag is difficult to miss.
“I don’t really think it’s offensive because it’s been there for so long. It’s kinda like a school tradition,” said student Victoria Ilacqua.
The flag has remained for years, often igniting public debate and garnering unwanted national attention.
“We’re not like that and people come into our school and they see that and perceive us as something we’re not and they think we’re very racist because of that and we aren’t,” said student Taylor Petrucci.
It sits on private property and is proudly displayed by a man who graduated from the high school in 1969. In the past he’s declined to comment, as he did again Friday.
“I think it’s a symbol for our high school,” said student Michaela Lamonica.
In the 1960s, the school changed its sports nickname from the ‘Hilltoppers’ to the ‘Rebels.’ The Confederacy connection followed, until 1994, when the school board voted to adopt a new symbol and drop the association.
This past spring, school officials took the matter a step further – erecting two poles from which the high school flag is raised, blocking the controversial flag during major events.
But, given the current climate and the debate over South Carolina’s Confederate flag, some wonder if the school could do more.
“A government actor, such as a public school district, cannot abridge a private citizen’s right to express him/herself. Any legal challenge from school officials would, therefore, be futile,” said Nancy Gallivan, Chairperson of the Walpole School Committee.
Stephen Imbusch, Principal at Walpole High School, worries a permanent structure would be destroyed or stolen.