A 16-year-old Fairfax High School student has been arrested and charged with burning a cross on campus, the most recent in a series of incidents that have raised racial tensions at the school.
The student was arrested about noon Wednesday at the school and released to the custody of his parents, Fairfax City police said yesterday.
Several Fairfax High School students -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian -- said they were offended or puzzled by the cross-burning, which took place on the front lawn of their school Wednesday. In recent weeks, there have been racial slurs, displays of Confederate flags and writing on bathroom walls saying, "The South Will Rise Again."
To the students, removed by a couple of generations from times when such incidents were daily realities for some, what has happened at their school in the last two weeks is troubling, although some did not fully understand the action's symbolic significance.
"I don't know what it means," said Bobby Salehi, 17, a junior, referring to the cross burning. "It has something to do against black people."
Sarah Bachmann, a spokeswoman for Fairfax City police, said the cross was burned on the front lawn of the school about 3 a.m. Wednesday. The charred cross was found by a student and reported to police about 8 a.m.
Fairfax High School Principal Donald Weinheimer said yesterday that the cross-burning was isolated, but that he thought it might be related to incidents that occurred last week.
The incidents began last Monday, Weinheimer said, with a small fight between a black and a white student. The next day, two brothers drove through the school's parking lot waving a large Confederate flag. Weinheimer took the flag away.
The two brothers returned to school last Wednesday wearing Confederate flags emblazoned on their backs. Weinheimer sent them home. On the following day, about a dozen students, in support of the brothers' right to freedom of expression, wore Confederate flags on T-shirts, jackets or car windows. A small fight in the locker bay area came that day, prompted by the flag incident, "but nothing more than two students slapping each other," Weinheimer said.
On Monday, came a bomb threat. And Wednesday morning, the 5-foot-by-3-foot cross, fashioned from wood used for fence posts, was found.
Weinheimer emphasized that the incidents where isolated to about 20 students in the 1,566-student school, and not representative of the entire population, which he said includes blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics who get along fine.
"Some of it is racial," he said. "Some of it is social status. Some is economic. It's a whole variety of things. It is too simplistic to say it is racial . . . . I don't want to say it was not racial completely, because that is an element."
The principal, who spoke with the 16-year-old, said the student did not say why he burned the cross. "I don't think he really knows himself why he did it," the principal said.
Angel Williams, 15, a 10th-grader, said the small number of black students in the school were upset by the incident. "Most black students here don't want to be here because there are not enough black people. Then you have to come to school and see this," she said pointing at the remains of a graffito saying, "The South Will Rise Again."
These kinds of incidents, she said, "should be over with."