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Federal court sides with Burleson district in Confederate purse case

The Burleson school district has won round two in a 2006 federal lawsuit filed by two Burleson High School graduates who were prohibited from carrying Confederate battle flag purses to school the year they were seniors.

But the attorney for the two students and a third teen added to the suit said he will ask the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to review the order by a federal district judge dismissing the case.

In a written ruling this week, U.S. District Judge David Godbey granted the school district’s summary judgment and dismissed claims by Aubrie McAllum and Ashley Thomas that school officials violated their constitutional rights when it prohibited them from carrying their purses bearing the image of the rebel flag.

Kirk Lyons of the Southern Legal Resource Center in North Carolina, attorney for the three students, said he was not surprised by Godbey’s five-page order, which echoed part of the judge’s 2007 opinion when he denied a request to let the girls continue carrying their purses while the trial continued.

“The judge made his position clear in the preliminary judgment,” Lyons said. “In that order, he said that he was not going to run the Burleson schools.

“We understood very early where this judge was coming from,” he said. “This is a perfect case to take to the Fifth Circuit. They’ve never done a Confederate flag case in this circuit.”

After the two girls graduated, Ashley’s sister, Megan, was added to the case to retain legal standing in the case, Lyons said. Megan is now a junior at Burleson High School. The other two girls are in college, he said.

District spokesman Richard Crummel said school officials are pleased that Godbey dismissed the case after also denying Lyons’ motions to reopen the pre-trial discovery process and require the district to turn over evidence the district considered privileged.

“If you’re preparing to go to court, you can certainly collect information to prepare for your defense,” Crummel said.

Godbey agreed, saying that the district was not required to turn over e-mails between Principal Paul Cash and other staff members about incidents supporting the district’s contention that displays of the Confederate flag would cause substantial interference at the school.

The judge also denied Lyons’ request for more time to subpoena a former Burleson student involved in a 2002 incident with the Confederate flag that led the district to ban future displays of the flag. The judge said that Lyons had had ample time to find that student, who reportedly waved a Confederate flag at African-American volleyball players during a game between the two schools.

Lyons contends that that incident was one of three — including the one involving his clients — in which students were disciplined for displaying the Confederate flag. None were serious enough to warrant banning the Confederate flag, he said.

“In 200 pages of district records, there was no a single fight, a punch thrown or a drop of blood caused by the Confederate flag,” he said. “There has been no disruption that would justify them banning those purses.”

Crummel declined to comment on Lyons’ allegations, but said the district stands behind its actions.

“We were confident from the beginning,” he said. “I think the district perspective is that we shouldn’t be surprised at any step taken along the way. We just have to be prepared. The Burleson school district is not going to try the case through the media. “Mr. Lyons may have multiple comments but our position is that we’ll patiently wait for the courts to make their decisions.