Suspended Christiansburg HS students say they will wear flag again Friday

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CHRISTIANSBURG (WSLS 10) - More than 20 Christiansburg High School students who were suspended Thursday for wearing clothing with the Confederate Flag on it said they will wear the flags again Friday and for the foreseeable future.

Montgomery County Public Schools said 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 refused. So they were given one day of in school suspension (ISS).

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Drake said many of the students became disruptive in ISS and refused to follow school rules, so they were given one day of out of school suspension. Some agreed to follow the rules and remained in ISS.

Thursday's controversy follows a history of debate about the symbol of the Confederacy. Drake said the school banned the flag inside the school after fights broke out in the early 2000s.

"It was a year's worth of fights that occurred from 2001 to 2002. The fights were racially charged and racially motivated, and the Confederate flag was used as a symbol of intimidation in that specific case," Drake explained.

But Drake said smaller fights continued for years.

In 2015, the school adopted a new policy, banning students from displaying the Confederate flag or decal on their cars in the school parking lot. It's a policy students must agree to in writing before receiving a parking pass.

Meanwhile, students involved in Thursday's controversy said they wore the shirts in protest of the bans.

"They're trying to get rid of it, and they're not trying to get rid of any other flags." student Forrest Taylor said. "They say that it's a racist thing even though it's not."

Other students echoed Taylor's take on the meaning of the flag, saying the symbol is more about heritage, not hate.

"It's not racist, I can tell you that right now." student Hannah Smith said. "My brother left this world a few months ago, and he told me it doesn't matter what people say, keep that flag flying for me."

The ACLU of Virginia weighed in on the issues at Christiansburg High, saying schools must balance first amendment rights with a healthy learning environment.

Claire Gastanaga with the ACLU of Virginia explained, "The question that they have to decide is whether the expression or the symbol will cause what is called 'a substantial disruption at the school,' and they have to be able to reasonably forecast that substantial disruption."

School leaders say while a school division is not allowed to ban a specific symbol, each individual school can ban what they deem to be offensive. An offensive symbol is determined by an incident that disrupts the education of students during the school day.

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You can see Jenna weekday mornings at the anchor desk on WSLS 10 Today from 5-7 a.m. She also leads our monthly Solutionaries Series, where we highlight the creative thinkers and doers working to make the world a better place.

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