It’s a tradition. Every year, the incoming seniors at Temecula Valley High School have the chance to paint their parking spaces.
Some of their designs are simple and straightforward. Some of them are intricate. Some are colorful. Some are plain. Usually, they’re just an expression of each student’s individuality.
But this year, when one student came across a Confederate flag painted on a parking spot, she saw something else – racism.
Solona Husband, 17, said she was on campus early the morning of Sept 12, almost three weeks after seniors would have begun painting their spaces, when she spotted the flag.
“I walked past this parking spot and there was a huge confederate flag, and immediately, I was not surprised but also very frustrated,” Husband, who is president of the school’s Black Student Union, said. “So I took a picture of it and sent it to a couple of my friends, and then I decided to post it on Twitter and Snapchat saying, ‘I can’t believe this is allowed, how can I get rid of it?'”
Husband said she told two teachers about the parking spot, both of whom immediately said they would talk to administration.
She said she later heard back that the TVHS principal already knew about the space.
“They’re telling us (at the time) that he’s already aware of the situation and we don’t really need to be concerned about it,” Husband said.
She said she also spoke to the teacher who runs student government activities and facilitates the painting of the seniors’ parking spaces.
“He told me they’ve known about this since last week, and they’re trying to work on it. He said ‘I hope you don’t think anyone condones this,'” Husband said.
Temecula Valley Unified School District spokeswoman Laura Boss confirmed the school had received an anonymous complaint about the parking spot on Aug. 29, two weeks before Husband noticed it and at least four days after it was painted – an Instagram page belonging to a relative of the student who the spot belongs to shows an image of the flag from Aug. 25. Valley News is not identifying the student, whose family did not return two requests for comment.
The image shown in the Instagram post and images posted to Twitter by Husband show a square Confederate battle flag with the number “01” painted over it – a reference to the version of the flag that appeared atop the vehicle used by the characters in the TV and film franchise “The Dukes of Hazzard,” which first premiered in 1979. The vehicle from the franchise, called the General Lee, is named in obvious reference to General Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate army during the Civil War.
“There’s a resemblance to it; it’s not the actual Confederate flag, which is red and blue – this is orange and blue,” TVHS Principal Allen Williams said via telephone on Sept. 16
Boss said the district began investigating as soon as the parking spot was first reported to them.
At the time of the initial investigation process, the school had received one concern, which they were addressing as part of the investigation and inquiry,” Boss said in an email. “These investigations take time and the admin wanted to make sure they were consulting with all appropriate resources.”
After looking into the matter, the district initially decided that the flag “was a matter of free speech” and that administrators “didn’t have cause to remove the Dukes of (Hazzard) painted parking spot at that time,” Boss said.
Williams, the principal, said he was made aware of the parking spot on Thursday, Sept. 5.
“On Friday, I started to do an investigation, which entailed (figuring out) what is this person talking about,” he said. “I wanted to verify that that was in fact true, and so that’s where I sent campus supervision to look at the stalls and see if that was accurate, so I received a report back that day that it was.”
Williams said he was not able to speak to the student and his parents until Monday, Sept. 9
At first, they discussed modifying the flag. In a later phone call with the family on Sept. 12, one of the parents “stated to me, ‘just remove the flag,'” the principal said.
By the end of that day, the flag was gone – Husband tweeted a photo at 5:20 p.m. that day showing it had been covered with black paint. By that time, it had been two-and-a-half weeks since the flag first appeared.
Boss said the district does not believe the student or his family meant for any racism to be interpreted from the flag.
“We do not believe there was any racial, ill intent,” Boss said. “However, we do understand the concerns brought forward and the school thoughtfully and respectfully addressed them in a manner that allowed all involved parties the opportunity to be involved in the process and resolution.”
Williams reiterated the district’s belief.
“I never thought the family was racist or they put the symbol down because they wanted to make a statement about white supremacy or demeaning another race,” he said. “But I do think that most people who look at the flag – it certainly evokes a lot of emotion around race and that for it being in a parking spot at our school, although the school didn’t put it there, by letting it sit there, I think it would not be responsible for the best interests of all of our students.”
While Williams said TVHS does not currently have an approval process for students’ parking space designs and has only light oversight of the painting process, he said in the future the school will review all designs.
“Because here’s what I especially feel bad about – if the intent of putting the flag there was just to celebrate a movie, the family spent eight hours putting that symbol down,” Williams said. “Then it becomes more emotional to have to remove that, and I think that’s difficult and I don’t feel good about doing that, but based on the circumstances and based on the growing concerns that were expressed about that being on campus, we had to.”
Husband said the student the parking spot belongs to messaged her over Instagram after she first tweeted about it.
“I have the right to feel safe on campus,” she said in one response.
“Then transfer,” the other student said, per a screenshot Husband provided.
Husband said she received threats to vandalize her parking spot over social media, but that school administration quickly were made aware and reached out to her.
But Husband said this is not the first time she has experienced or seen racism on TVHS’s campus – and it’s not even the first time she says she has seen the Confederate flag on campus.
She said her freshman year, she saw another student with the flag on her binder.
“I confronted her,” Husband said. “Even if I didn’t articulate it being 14 or 15, I still knew the Confederate flag was a sign of racism.”
Husband also said she frequently hears students using the racial slur commonly referred to as the n-word.
“You always hear the n-word thrown out by whoever, whenever,” she said. “And it’s either you accept it or it gets thrown out every day. And that’s my experience as a black person at Temecula Valley High School.”
Williams said as society “grapples with issues of race,” TVHS is no different.
“That’s sad to hear, but that’s certainly a perspective of one student and I don’t doubt that the student has heard that word at our school,” he said in response to Husband’s statements of her experience. “I know there is discussion even within our own Black Student Union that students, even of color, are divided on the use of that word. There’s this sometimes this understanding that it’s OK for some ethnic groups to use that word but I stand of the mind that no one should be using that word on our campus.”
According to California Department of Education data from the 2018-2019 school year, TVHS had only 75 black students out of a student population of 2,914 – less than three percent of all students. White students made up the plurality of the student body at 48.8 percent, and Hispanic students were not far behind at 32 percent. Williams is also white.
Husband said as a leader in the Black Student Union, she usually is one of the first to say something when she sees something she perceives as racist, and she will continue to do so, even though at times she fears nothing is done.
“I know there’s always situations like this that happen on campus and I feel like if I stand up and say something, I always get in trouble, and the other person gets a slap on the wrist,” Husband said. “I’ve been in Williams’ office about 10 times a year. I’m always in there – it’s kind of my second home, because something’s always going on.”
Will Fritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.