By Velena Jones

ELK GROVE (CBS13) – Two Elk Grove Unified employees were put on leave after a confederate flag was found hanging inside a district van.

While the flag represents history for some, it brings up a painful past for others. Monty Watkins is no stranger to seeing confederate flags.

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“It can’t be tolerated,” Watkins said. “I know where those flags come from.”

Watkins didn’t expect to see one hanging from an air vent inside Elk Grove Unified School District van while he was driving around town.

“It’s kind of the unsettling side that I moved out here 2,000 miles away and it’s right here,” he explained.

The father of two 11-year-old students grew up in Tennessee. For Watkins, the flag brings painful symbolism.

“I was a little kid in Tennessee who was told with his brothers and sisters and cousins to get their head down in the back of the station wagon because they were holding Klan rallies at the fairgrounds and we drove by,” he said. “If they saw us in that vehicle, people of color, they would follow us home and possibly lynch us.”

Watkins took pictures and reported the employees to the district Tuesday. James Tan, a spokesperson for the district, confirmed school officials found the small flag and put two employees on paid administrative leave.

“District vehicles, like district classrooms, must be safe spaces for students and all staff, and an item such as a confederate flag found in a district van is not tolerated,” Tan said in a statement.

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“In addition to taking swift personnel action, we will further take action to ensure compliance with our policies of professionalism, anti-harassment and anti-hate speech. We thanked the parent who reported this,” Tan added.

At first, Watkins hesitated to report what he saw, worried about the employees’ jobs, but believes this issue is too important not to address, especially as a parent with young kids in the district.

“The beginning I thought about these guys’ jobs but if their jobs really meant that much to them, they wouldn’t have had those flags there,” he explained.

This is not the first time the district has dealt with issues surrounding race. In 2017, a viral snap chat video of a student making racist remarks against the black community sparked outrage and meetings to address the issue. The same year, a high school student was pictured wearing a backpack with the confederate flag patch.

Watkins believes the symbol shouldn’t be connected with the school district at all.

“People trust you, that’s why they put you in a company vehicle, not to take your personal opinion,” he said.

The employees will remain on administrative leave until an investigation is completed.

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Watkins hopes the district also provides more education for their staff and teachers.

Velena Jones