A bill advancing in the Mississippi House of Representatives would require all K-12 schools to fly the state flag or lose their state accreditation.
House Bill 280, passed 13-8 Wednesday in the House Education Committee, is a broader mandate that schools must follow the state Constitution and all state laws.
But one of Mississippi’s laws is an oft-flouted mandate that schools fly the banner, which includes the Confederate battle emblem in its upper left-hand corner. Districts, especially those with majority African-American student bodies, sometimes object to the flag as racist. One example of a district that doesn’t display the flag is the city of Jackson, Mississippi’s second-largest school system.
Sponsor Mark Formby, R-Picayune, says the bill includes the flag, but said that’s not what motivated it. He said most complaints he gets concern schools disobeying other laws, such as those governing hiring and purchasing. His measure would allow any person to file a complaint with the state Department of Education and require the department to investigate. If the department found a violation, a district would have 30 days to correct it. If not, the Board of Education would be required to withdraw accreditation. Any district losing accreditation could have sports and extracurricular activities limited.
“This says a person could call them on the carpet if you don’t enforce the laws,” Formby said.
Rep. Jarvis Dortch, D-Raymond, objected to the possibility of complaints over the flag. But Rep. Dana Criswell, R-Olive Branch, said Dortch should instead change the law requiring schools to display the flag.
“You should repeal the law and not just go around it,” Criswell said.
State Superintendent Carey Wright said she has no figures on how many schools don’t fly the flag, although she said she gets frequent complaints about schools where the banner is missing. Wright says that now, state officials advise districts to follow the law, but have no power to sanction them.
The bill moves to the House Constitution Committee, where it must pass again before reaching the House floor. Requiring two committees to pass a bill is often a sign of disfavor from legislative leadership, and House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, has said he favors changing the state flag. No parallel measure is pending in the Senate.
The move comes amid continuing debate over Mississippi’s flag. All eight state universities have stopped flying it. However, they are not required to display it under state law and the law would not affect them.