Heritage or hatred? Confederate flag gets 23 Virginia students suspended

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Heritage or hatred? Confederate flag gets 23 Virginia students suspended

By Washington Post, adapted by Newsela staff on 09.24.15

People gather at the South Carolina State House during a rally to support the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the building's grounds in Columbia, South Carolina, June 23, 2015. Photo: Tracy Glantz/The State/TNS

A peaceful student demonstration at a Virginia high school ended with school administrators suspending 23 teens. They had worn clothes emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag, which violates the school's dress code, according to school officials, students and parents.

The students, who attend Christiansburg High School in southwestern Virginia, said they wore the controversial Confederate symbols to protest the school policy. The students view the policy as a violation of their free speech. According to the policy, students are barred from wearing any clothing that could "reflect adversely on persons due to race" and specifies that includes "clothing with Confederate flag symbols."

Banned Since 2002

Montgomery County schools spokeswoman Brenda Drake said that half of all middle schools and high schools in the county do not allow the display of the Confederate battle flag. About 8 percent of Christiansburg High School's 1,100 students are black and more than 80 percent are white, according to The Associated Press news service.

Drake said Confederate flag symbols have been banned at Christiansburg High since 2002. That year the school was inflamed by racially motivated fights between students, some of which were linked back to students wearing Confederate symbols.

"It was an entire school year of significant racial tension," Drake said, adding that some of that violence has continued despite the ban. "I think certainly we value First Amendment rights, but we have to maintain an orderly and safe environment for all students."

"Y'all Wouldn't Understand"

High school junior Zach Comer was among the students who took part in the rally last Thursday morning. He said that the purpose of the demonstration was to criticize the school's dress code policy, which he said unfairly targets the Confederate battle flag and those who fly it.

"We're not trying to go into school and raise Cain or anything," Comer said. "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."

Comer appeared at the rally with a Confederate flag draped over his shoulders. He also wore a Confederate flag belt buckle and a T-shirt with a Confederate flag on the back. He said it was inscribed with the slogan, "It's a lifestyle, y'all wouldn't understand."

Comer said that he does not discriminate against anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or the color of their skin.

Symbol of Heritage, Or Slavery?

"Live life like you want to live life," Comer said, "but people are trying to stop me for living mine. I'm just tired of it."

The Confederate battle flag has long been controversial. Some argue that it is a proud symbol of Southern heritage, while others protest it as a symbol of hatred that glorifies slavery and bigotry. The Confederate flag and monuments to Confederate leaders have come under increased scrutiny since June, when nine black church members were gunned down at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The white man charged in the shooting had previously posed in photographs waving the Confederate flag.

In July, legislators in South Carolina voted to remove a Confederate flag that had flown on the statehouse grounds for decades. Meanwhile, colleges around the country have been re-examining displays of Confederate flags, monuments and symbols.

"Southern Pride Is Just A Cover-Up"

Chet Morley graduated from Christiansburg High this year and is now attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Morley said he saw students wear belt buckles or T-shirts with the Confederate battle flag during his time at the school. Teachers sometimes pointed out it was against the dress code, but others overlooked it.

Morley, who is black, said seeing the flag bothered him, but he never said anything around his white classmates who wore it. Although his classmates said the flag symbolized their pride in their Confederate roots, Morley said it made him think of slavery. His stepfather is a descendant of a slave, and his father's family, from the Bahamas, likely has slave roots as well.

"Southern pride is just a little cover-up, if you ask me," Morley said. Referring to the Confederate battle flag, he said, "As for me and my ancestors, it means more than that."

23 Students Suspended

What began as a peaceful demonstration last Thursday morning, students said, ended with 23 students suspended for one day for participating in the rally. The students Comer said were stopped by school administrators who told them they were not allowed inside wearing the Confederate clothing.

"We said no," said sophomore Dalton Reedy, a member of the Sons of the Confederacy group, who wore a T-shirt, belt buckle, bandanna and necklace with the Confederate battle flag. "It's my heritage. I grew up on it. It has nothing to do with racism."

Reedy, who said his ancestors fought for the Confederacy, said he doesn't believe the dress code policy is fair. "Most people look at me like I'm a racist. What I really find offensive is we have a black student awareness club but we don't have a Mexican awareness or Russian or white club."

"Got A Point Through Today"

Reedy's mother, Angie Craiger, said that she was proud of her son for "standing up for what he believes in."

"He's not one of these people to sit back and complain about it at home and do nothing to make a difference," Craiger said. "Why are they trying to begrudge him for his beliefs?"

Comer said that students plan to continue the protest when they return to school on Friday by wearing their Confederate clothing again.

"We definitely got a point through today," Comer said. "We set out to accomplish something today and we way overachieved it."


Who is the intended audience? Explain.

Is this article slanted to one side? Explain (Give examples of specific words the author chose to put in the article).

Reflection: Double spaced 12 inch Times New Roman Font. Write a 1 page reflection on what you read. (Do you think the school district was justified in suspending the students?)

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