Students suspended for wearing clothing displaying Confederate flag

About 20 Virginia high school students were suspended after violating the school’s dress code, which bans Confederate flag symbols.

Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times/AP
Christiansburg High School student Sam Sheppard (l.) displays a Confederate flag while fellow student Andrew Love displays another flag in a shopping center parking lot after being suspended from school in Christiansburg, Va., Thursday.

The debate over public displays of the Confederate battle flag has moved to a new location – a high school parking lot.

With Confederate flags draped over their shoulders and Confederate symbols on their T-shirts and belts, students at a Virginia high school gathered in a parking lot Thursday morning, to protest a new policy banning vehicles with the Confederate flag from the school parking lot.

For their actions, about twenty students who attend Christiansburg High School in southwestern Virginia received a one-day suspension from school administrators.

Montgomery County Public Schools said in a statement that 25 students came to class Thursday wearing the flag, which is a violation of the school’s dress code. Schools spokeswoman Brenda Drake said the students were given the opportunity to comply with the dress code, but some refused and proceeded to disrupt the school environment through loud displays and behavior. So they were given one day of in-school suspension. 

“We value our students’ First Amendment rights, but we must maintain an orderly and safe environment for all students,” said Drake. “Incidents of racial tension at CHS support the continued prohibition of the Confederate flag in the building.”

According to Ms. Drake, the Confederate flag symbol was banned at the high school in 2002 after a year in which a number of fights broke out over disagreements about the symbol.

This fall, the school adopted a new policy banning students from displaying the Confederate battle flag or Confederate flag bumper stickers on their cars in the school parking lot. The new rule states that, “Vehicles must be free from displaying any flags or symbols that are deemed offensive to any race, religion, ethnic group, or sexual orientation.” It’s a policy students must agree to in writing before receiving parking privileges at the school, according to the Roanoke Times.

Students involved in Thursday’s controversy said they wore clothing displaying the symbol in protest of the bans, according to the Washington Post. 

Following the June 17 mass shooting at a landmark black church in Charleston, S.C., by Dylann Roof, Confederate symbols have come under increased public scrutiny. The 21-year-old shooter confessed that he was attempting to start a race war and photos quickly emerged of him displaying a variety of flags associated with white supremacy, including the Confederate battle flag. A nationwide movement erupted to rid public places of the flag.

According to the Post, Houston Miller – one of the students who took part in Thursday morning's display – initially said that he and others would continue to protest and display Confederate flags. “But he later said that some students were concerned about angry messages they were getting online about the issue and were hesitant to continue their efforts.”

The Associated Press, citing state data, reports, of the school's 1,100 students, 83 percent are white and 8 percent are black.

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