Confederate flags were flown from a car and worn on clothing. Several scuffles broke out between black and white students. Bathroom graffiti proclaimed, "The South Will Rise Again." A makeshift wooden cross was burned on campus.

Symbols of the Old South and the Confederacy have reopened racial wounds at Fairfax High School, which has long struggled to square its Southern heritage with racial sensitivity.

After recent incidents at the 55-year-old school in Fairfax City, local and federal mediators plan to visit the campus this week, and the local NAACP and a group of black parents are demanding a meeting with School Superintendent Robert R. Spillane.

"Parents are disgusted that this happened in 1990," said Earl Whitehurst Jr., a member of a newly formed six-member committee of black parents that will hold its first meeting tomorrow. "It's a real reminder that some people haven't forgotten how to do the racist things."

Students, school administrators and the community have all come under criticism for the way they have handled the situation. The conflict was exacerbated when a teacher went to school wearing a scarf emblazoned with the Confederate flag on the day students were waving the flag in the parking lot.

Officials said the teacher recently arrived here from Texas and did not realize how the scarf would be viewed. She removed it voluntarily, they said.

But some black parents, who urged the principal to discipline the teacher, said they found her explanation hard to believe. "That's so totally stupid it's incomprehensible," said L. Marie Guillory, Fairfax County NAACP president. "That just stretches credulity to its outer limit."

School officials say they consider the situation serious, but they maintain that a relatively small group of troublemaking teenagers is responsible.

"Basically, I think it's all been blown out of proportion," said Assistant Principal John Nottingham. "We actually have a very calm school with few problems. We do have a community in which some kids want to fit in with this . . . good-old-boy persona, and that can sometimes be divisive."

About 20 parents of the school's 88 black students met at the school Thursday night and appointed a committee to seek meetings with Spillane and School Board Chairman Kohann H. Whitney.

"There's an attitude of tolerance for {the past two weeks'} kind of behavior," Guillory said. Suspending troublemakers was a good start, she said. "But those are just surface kinds of things. There's a deeper problem there, and it has to be addressed."

Counselors from the county school system's Office of Human Relations have met with both white and black students, and on Tuesday they plan to bring those groups together. Henry C. Mitchum, a conciliation specialist with the U.S. Justice Department's community relations service in Philadelphia, said he plans to travel to Fairfax this week to offer his assistance, at the request of the NAACP.

Racial tension is nothing new to Fairfax High School, where blacks make up about 5.6 percent of the 1,566 students.

More than 13 years ago, a handful of black students, irritated by the school's "Johnny Reb" mascot, began pushing for the Confederate soldier symbol to be jettisoned. Finally, in 1986, Harry F. Holsinger, who was principal at the time, agreed to scrap the mascot. That generated loud protests and a federal lawsuit from white students and parents who considered Johnny Reb part of the area's heritage, not a symbol of slavery.

Although the lawsuit ultimately was dismissed, some in the community have neither forgiven nor forgotten. As recently as last spring, a committee of students and teachers tried to find a replacement mascot but failed to agree on a figure. The school still has no mascot.

The latest incidents began two weeks ago, when a black student accused a white student of using a racial slur and the two ended up in a fistfight, rolling around on the floor of the school's locker area, according to school officials.

The next day, a pair of white brothers drove through the school's parking lot displaying a large Confederate flag, which Principal Donald J. Weinheimer Jr. confiscated.

The youths returned to school the next day wearing the Confederate flag on their backs and were suspended for two days. The day after, about a dozen students wore flags on T-shirts, jackets or car windows to support the brothers' right to freedom of expression.

Then, last Wednesday morning, a student found the charred remains of a cross fashioned out of wooden fence posts. Fairfax City police arrested a 16-year-old boy who was a friend of the other students and charged him with cross-burning. He has been released to the custody of his parents.

The motivations of those who have waved the Confederate flag and made an issue of it remain a subject of debate. Some students, parents and school officials insist that the few white students involved are simply rebellious youths who want attention.

"I think the Confederate flag means absolutely nothing to them," said Tim Tyrrell, 18, a former student government president who graduated from Fairfax in June. "They're just doing it for attention -- and they got it . . . . The parents who are making a big deal out of this, the NACCP, in my view, they need to grow up too."

"They are just people who aren't doing well in school," said Mike Killinger, 17, a white senior. "The majority opinion of most of the school is, this is stupid. Most people are trying to forget it right now." Staff writer DeNeen L. Brown contributed to this report.