The Confederate battle flag was not in sight yesterday at Fairfax High School, but it was on many minds as the school ended a hectic week that began with a fight, included racial slurs and rowdy displays of Confederate flags and ended with four students suspended.
Principal Donald J. Weinheimer Jr., walkie-talkie in hand, paced the halls yesterday. "I hope Monday is calm like today," said Weinheimer, who is in his third year at the 1,563-student school. "Yesterday, emotions were running high."
To help keep order, Weinheimer increased teacher presence in the halls and held separate meetings with groups of black students and white students.
The week's incidents began Tuesday, when two students started waving a large Confederate flag from their car as they drove around the parking lot. Weinheimer took the flag away.
"You can't take a 4-by-4-foot flag, hang it out the car window and not expect some people to take offense," Weinheimer said. "It doesn't seem like it's a reasonable thing to do. In a school situation, I can't have someone inciting other students."
The two students, who are brothers, wore denim jackets with Confederate flags emblazoned on the back on Wednesday. Weinheimer sent them home.
To support the brothers' right to free expression, dozens of Confederate flags adorned students' T-shirts, jackets and car windows on Thursday.
"I thought it was very racist," said Nina Childs, a 17-year-old junior who is black. "Some meant it to get back at the school, but it was the wrong way to protest. Every year it's usually the same kids."
Some fights broke out, and 17-year-old sophomore Beth Smith, who is black, said she heard racial taunts outside the school, which has 88 black students and 1,127 whites. The brothers were suspended for two days because they refused to remove the flags from their jackets.
The issue of Confederate flags has been a hot one since Fairfax High dropped its Johnny Reb mascot in 1986 because of its racial overtones. Some parents went to bourt to fight the change, charging that it was not offensive. But a federal appeals court in Richmond upheld the right of then-Principal Harry F. Holsinger to change the mascot. The Johnny Reb mascot was discharged but the school remains "The Rebels."
Since then, the school does not allow the Confederate flag to be exhibited in school or at school-related events. But the issue hasn't died.
"Once in a while it comes to the top and goes full force," said Todd Walters, a 16-year-old junior.
This week's incidents seemed less an effort to return Johnny Reb to band uniforms and more like a prank that mushroomed, students and administrators said.
Ginny Griffith, 16, a junior, disagrees with the way the administration handled the situation.
"I'm not against black people," said Griffith, who put a flag in her car to support the brothers. "If they bust people for Rebel flags, they'll have to bust people for crosses on neck chains or shirts with fish on them. People would go bare-bottomed. It's just a symbol, not the end of the world."
But most black students interviewed yesterday said the flag bothers them.
"I'm not happy with it," said Doug Morency, a defensive tackle on the football team. "At the games, grownups bring Rebel flags. The Rebel flag brings back bad memories of your parents and grandparents and what they went through to get you where you are today."