The emblem of the Confederate flag is almost everywhere at Loudoun County High School -- on the band unforms, choir room rug, the class ring, the school's athletic T-shirts. Everywhere, that is, except on the wooden sign on the school's front lawn.
It is not on the sign because a black parent who said he found the flag emblem offensive chopped four of the emblems down a year ago.
Yesterday about 250 white students, who said the school has been too slow in replacing the missing emblem, returned to classes after a brief boycott on Thursday to protest the school's alleged footdragging.A student committee has been formed to decide what the school's emblem should be.
But in interviews, black and white students with sharply differing views indicated the committee's task may be a difficult one.
"I just don't see why the blacks are getting all riled," said Mark Rally, 16, a 10th grader. "The flags shouldn't have been taken off in the first place. Virginia is the South and I can't see that those flags have anything to do with prejudice to blacks... We want them back up."
But Michael Thomas. 19, a black senior, said, "We aren't going to let that happen. We will tear them back off. The whites are trying to make like it's still slavery or something."
About 30 Virginia state troopers and Leesburg police officers were called to the school during Thursday's boycott, but did not intervene. One officer said he saw "a few fights" among students as they left school.
Some students involved in the boycott wore Confederate flag lapel pins, while others waved a large Confederate flag, witnesses said. The boycott coincided with the first day of Black History Month.
School Principal Kenneth Culbert, who called the episode "just a minor issue," yesterday refused to let students talk to a reporter on the school premises.
But 17-year-old Dwight Robinson, one of the protesting white students, said he thought the flags should be put back on the sign. "It's been part of the school for the past 25 years. The only reason they haven't (replaced the flags) is that the colored people started getting riled."
Lou Etta Watkins, a member of the NAACP and a Loudoun County organization called EQUAL, composed mostly of black couples, said the incident points up the problems of black students enrolled in a school that is predominantly white.
"It's just that there are more blacks that get suspended, more blacks that get detention, more that get hassled -- and why? For the same reasons they call black men boys. They do that frequently enough in Loudoun," she said.
But another black parent, Mary Lee Perry, said blacks in the county have raised the possibility but never established that black students are singled out for discipline at school.
Culbert, the principal said last night that a county school board committee tried and failed last year to find any evidence of discrimination.
"Maybe the blacks do feel the flag is offensive to them, but it's not been raised by them as an issue this year. This year, it's the whites."
Blacks constitute about one-fifth of Loudoun High's 1,000-student enrollment. The high school, one of four in the county, serves Leesburg, Middleburg, Aldie and Lucketts.
Blacks at Loudoun County High won permission to be absent from school in observance of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday after a student protest last year.An earlier campaign by black students and parents resulted in three suspended basketball players being reinstated to the team.
The committee formed after Thursday protest by whites is the third such panel established in a year, Culbert said.
One suggestion is to replace the controversial flag with a sword or rifle. But that will not do, according to one flag proponent, 15-year-old Brian Rally, because they are "symbols of violence."
Another alternative is the Union flag, but a Confederate flag advocate, Dwayne Boxwell, 15, rejects that because "it's not our part of the country."
A third possibility is the Bicentennial flag, but white students said in interviews that there has never been much enthusiasm for that idea.
"The white kids want the flags back," said a white parent, Madeleine Reynolds, mother of a Loudoun High sophomore. "The colored -- blacks, they call them -- don't want them. They said it represents slavery. Well, it doesn't. They should be there. It's tradition, it's the South."