More than 20 pupils in Virginia are at the centre of a mounting controversy after they were suspended for wearing Confederate Flag symbols when the school had banned them amid “racial tension”.
Christiansburg High School said its policy prohibited the increasingly controversial symbol being worn to school and a new regulation this autumn had banned vehicles bearing it from the car park. The students held a rally on Thursday and were suspended.
On Friday, a group of about 40 students and their supporters gathered near the school to call on officials to change their policy.
One of the student organisers, Houston Miller, told the Associated Press he was refusing to back down and that he was considering taking legal action against the school.
“I feel like I should have the right to wear whatever I want, and I’m standing up for this,” he said.
Moves to remove or restrict the Confederate flag gathered pace in the weeks after the June 17 attack on a Charleston church where nine black members were killed. In the aftermath of the attack, a cache of photographs were discovered online showing accused gunman Dylann Roof posing with the flag.
Since then, the symbol was removed from the grounds of the state house in the South Carolina capital, Columbia. Mississippi and other southern states are undergoing a similarly painful reexamination of their histories.
The dress code at the school in Christiansburg prohibits students from wearing articles that "reflect adversely on people because of race, gender, or other factors". Of the school’s 1,100 students, 83 per cent are white and 8 per cent are black.
Brenda Drake, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County Public Schools said in a statement to The Independent that the school valued the students rights to freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, but wanted to maintain a safe environment.
She said there had been recent incidents of racially motivated behaviour.
“We are not issuing a judgment on the flag, but know that not allowing it at CHS supports a peaceful educational environment in the building,” she said said.
“Continued racial friction suggests that lifting the ban of this particular symbol would cause significant disruption at the school.”
Morgan Willis, another of the students attending the rally, had a Confederate flag draped across the top of her car until she was told on the first day of class to remove it.
She told the AP that for her and other students, the flag was central to their Southern heritage.
“I understand some people take it as hate, but none of us out there were racist or anything,” she said. “I don't see it as hate. If I did, I wouldn't own it. I see it as this is your Southern heritage, and if you can’t have that, then what can you have?”
Richmond-based lawyer Jonathan Arthur said he has been talking to some of the students about potentially filing a lawsuit against the school, arguing that they have a Constitutionally-protected right to wear clothing showing the flag.Reuse content