PLAINFIELD – As two Joliet police officers watched, a group of about 20 Plainfield South High School students and supporters hoisted Confederate and U.S. flags on their cars and trucks Friday afternoon at the Walgreens and Aldi parking lot across from the school.
Earlier, school officials told them they weren’t allowed on school grounds with the Confederate flag during school operations, including after school, because it could cause disruption and maybe even safety issues for students.
So the flag-bearers drove up Caton Farm Road in the Plainfield-Joliet area, displaying a flag that some say represents heritage, but others say stands for hate and racism.
The rally came at the end of a week marked by a school-wide debate about the Confederate flag and the First Amendment at Plainfield South.
The debate centered on a Plainfield South senior whose Confederate flag was stolen off his car Wednesday while he was in class. Payton Jadwin claimed a dean asked him to delete tweets he said contained evidence of threats against him before police became involved in the incident.
Jadwin said the Confederate flag celebrates his heritage. He said he is part Cherokee Native American and has ancestors from Georgia.
“I started receiving threats,” Jadwin said, adding other students referred to him as “the KKK.” One tweet from a person claiming to have stolen the flag threatened to set Jadwin’s truck on fire, Jadwin said.
Jadwin said he talked with Dean of Students Bryan Radavich, who told him to delete the tweets. The tweets appeared to have been deleted as of Friday morning.
“They said I could be suspended if I came back with a Confederate flag,” Jadwin said. “I’m just trying to protect my freedom of speech and assembly.”
Jadwin’s father said he talked Friday morning with Plainfield District 202 Superintendent Lane Abrell about the dean’s actions, and Abrell said he would look into it.
“Right now, I don’t feel my son is safe there,” said Jadwin’s father, George Jadwin.
District spokesman Tom Hernandez confirmed the discussion with Abrell.
“We are investigating [the Jadwins’] claims,” Hernandez said Friday morning. “That’s all we can really say because now we’re dealing with a student matter.”
Flag-bearing students gathered twice Friday, before and after school.
Early in the morning, student supporters of Payton Jadwin came to the school with U.S., Chicago Cubs and U.S. Marine flags on their vehicles in protest of the school’s response to the Confederate flag.
Two officers were stationed near the school Friday morning after a school resource officer heard about the potential for a protest, Joliet Police Chief Brian Benton said. Plainfield South is in Joliet, and in the jurisdiction of Joliet police.
The school was “quiet” during class hours, Hernandez said, adding there were no threats to student safety. He said there were events after school Friday, so the school had a right to prohibit protests that could disrupt students or jeopardize their safety.
A few parents of black students called the district Friday concerned for their children’s safety, Hernandez said.
Students took to Twitter on Friday to voice their frustrations with the controversy.
One student tweeted, “Plainfield South, home of the foolery.”
Others tweeted photos of the flag-laden trucks at various locations throughout Plainfield and Joliet.
“I can understand if people are offended by the flag,” Payton Jadwin said, adding that, for him, the issue became more about the school suppressing students’ expression. “That’s their view. As long as no one is trying to destroy me, my property or my rights, they can offend me too.”
According to a district news release, the flag displays Friday followed a week of incidents involving the Confederate flag at the school.
On Tuesday, the news release stated, a student – not Jadwin – had a Confederate flag on his or her vehicle. On Wednesday, a different student wore a shirt displaying the Confederate flag. Administrators asked that both the flag and shirt not be displayed on school grounds, and both students complied.
“We respect students’ First Amendment rights,” the district stated in the news release. “However, the courts have long held that students lose some of those rights, and schools can limit and control student speech if/when it causes a disruption to the educational process.”
The news release stated school officials will continue to monitor the situation to minimize any disruption to school operations.
Hernandez said concerned parents can contact the school administration or district office.