More than 20 students missed a day of classes in rural Virginia after they were suspended for violating their high school's dress code that bans wearing Confederate flag emblems.
Brenda Drake, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Public Schools, says that about 24 students arrived Thursday morning at Christiansburg High School wearing the attire featuring the Confederate battle flag, which has been banned at the school for some 13 years. The Washington Post says that students are "barred from wearing any clothing that could 'reflect adversely on persons due to race' and specifies that 'clothing with Confederate flag symbols' falls in that category."
According to The News Messenger:
"All were asked by school officials to comply with the dress code and remove the Confederate apparel. Three of the students changed their attire to adhere to the dress code, while the remaining 21 were placed into In-School Suspension, a lesser form of suspension that involves students being cloistered away from the general student population.
"According to Drake, 15 students became disruptive in ISS and were sent home with official suspensions. Another two used 'threatening/abusive language' and received 'additional days of suspension.' The remaining four students complied with the school's standards of behavior and remained in ISS."
"We value our students' First Amendment rights, but we must maintain an orderly and safe environment for all students," Drake said. "Incidents of racial tension at CHS support the continued prohibition of the Confederate flag in the building."
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, which many blacks see as a validation of slavery.
"It was an entire school year of significant racial tension," Drake said, adding that some of that violence continues. "I think certainly we value First Amendment rights, but we have to maintain an orderly and safe environment for all students."
"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 added.
The Post quotes Christiansburg junior Zach Comer — one of the students who took part in Thursday morning's display — as saying that he and others just wanted to protest the dress code.
"We're not trying to go into school and raise Cain or anything," Comer said, according to the newspaper. "We're doing it to raise a point that the flag is not racist. Everyone else can wear whatever shirts they want but we're not. We just said 'It's time to put a stop to it."
The Associated Press, citing state data, says the high school's student body of 1,100 students is about 83 percent white and 8 percent black.