Bedford County Schools defers Confederate flag ban, wants community discussions

Controversy ignites after Confederate flag photos posted on social media

BEDFORD, Va. – The controversy over the Confederate flag is back in the spotlight, this time at Bedford County Public Schools after pictures surfaced on social media with students proudly posing with it during school spirit week.

On Thursday night, some community members called for the school board to take action and ban Confederate flags and symbols of hate. Action did come at the meeting, but it wasn't the action most in the audience were looking for. In what the school board chairwoman called a teachable moment, she said they do need to re-examine the student code of conduct, but the majority of the board felt now was the wrong time to take action and more community input is needed.

Many upset community members packed the school board meeting Thursday night claiming the schools division-wide are rooted in racism.

"You have the opportunity to do the right thing and to shine and to push all that negativity away and to do the right thing," Jefferson Forest parent Lyman Connor said.

Connor was the parent who shared the social media post depicting Jefferson Forest students posing proudly with the Confederate flag. The school's response infuriated some people, as school leaders said the flags were shown briefly, no rules were broken, and no disruptions were caused by it.

"To me, it seemed like the school was, it was analogous to blaming a CT scan for revealing that you have a cancerous tumor," Bedford County resident Martha Cousins said. "Damn that CT scan."

Some who spoke said they're most upset that school officials have yet to unilaterally condemn the incident. The Hate-Free Schools Coalition, founded outside Chapel Hill, N.C., is now involved. Despite banning Confederate flags at other local school divisions in recent years, Bedford County has kept the status quo.

"The students in the photographs did not break any rules, and that is precisely the problem, the fact that kids would think these photos are a good idea in 2019 during Black History Month is a predictable result of the BCPS policy of students being permitted to display Confederate flags in school for years," Jefferson Forest High School teacher Spence White said.

Superintendent Dr. Doug Schuch said a meeting with an advisory team made up of 30 students and staff members produced a consensus that no matter how people view the Confederate flag, banning it is a good idea. But the school board wouldn't go that far Thursday night, with the majority agreeing more conversations guided by an outside group that specializes in this kind of thing need to happen.

Some people felt that was nothing more than the board dragging its feet on a time-sensitive topic. Most school board members stayed down the middle on this, saying they wanted more discussion and time, but there were two outliers.

Dr. John Hicks was the only board member to outright say the Confederate flag and hate symbols should be banned and made it seem as if he didn't need any more discussion. Richard Downey, on the other hand, said the board is dealing with a serious situation, but he's concerned about restricting students' free speech.