A spirit week theme day at a Virginia high school has left the students and parents reeling and concerned about the atmosphere of racism swirling throughout the hallways.
Jefferson Forest High School was embroiled in controversy Monday, Feb. 4 when the Forest, Va., school’s annual Spirit Week kicked off. The day was themed “Country vs. Country Club.”
That day, a student put out a call to all JFHS students who brought an American, Confederate flag or anything of the like to school to “meet by the trophy cases over the weight room after 5th period for a picture.”
Students obliged and proudly posed for a Snapchat photo including the two rebel flags and two flags reading “Don’t Tread on Me,” a saying adapted into a song by country singer-songwriter Granger Smith. It also includes his catchphrase, “Yee Yee.” There is also one Gadsden flag, which was designed by American general and politician Christopher Gadsden during the American Revolution, that displays the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me.”
That wasn’t the only image that troubled some, either. Another showed a female student draped in the Confederate flag in the cafeteria. She captioned her Snapchat picture in part, “If you got a problem with everything then suck it up, it’s history and heritage, wanna fight history then talk to Hitler I don’t care.”
The images did not sit well with everyone who attends the 85 percent white school. The incidents have raised concerns for parents, many of whom met with the local NAACP chapter to discuss the next steps.
“This is not about the flag. This is about the mentality behind the flag,” Robert Carson, president of the Bedford NAACP said to ABC 13 Feb. 11. “This is about the mentality behind it and the things that are being said along with it. It is something that needs to be addressed and we intend to engage this whether as parents, grandparents.”
Speaking to The Washington Post, parents explained seeing the Confederate flag-draped photos is just an extension of the racism Black students have endured at the school.
Talya Connor said her 10th-grade daughter has been called racial slurs in school and shrugged when she saw the Confederate flag photographs.
“She was like, ‘This is just what happens here,’” the mother recalled.
Cenise Bryant graduated from Jefferson Forest in 2010, and she also was faced with racial epithets as she walked the halls, where students were allowed to wear Confederate flag apparel.
“The school is so blind to this behavior that teachers didn’t pay attention until there was a fight,” she told The Post.
Despite the outcry, JFHS doesn’t have a policy to ban Confederate flags unless it causes a disturbance. The photos were not reported to the school when they went up, Bedford County School Board spokesman Ryan Edwards said at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting Feb. 21.
Superintendent Douglas Schuch reassured attendees that administrators were taking the matter “very seriously.”
The remarks follow a statement Schuch issued earlier this month saying schools across the county “will use this incident to examine historical practices around spirit week and other school activities, to make sure that we steer clear of situations that may unintentionally encourage learners to engage in behavior that others may find offensive.
“Perhaps most importantly, we also have the opportunity to focus even more intently on conversations with our young learners and staff about respect, empathy, and understanding how images can mean very different things to individuals based on their own unique circumstances,” he added. “Though these conversations can be awkward, we have an obligation to facilitate them as best we can and also encourage parents and community members to have the same difficult conversations with our young learners and each other.”
School board member John H. Hicks Jr. has proposed a ban of “any symbols of racism or oppression such as the Confederate Flag or KKK symbols or anything of that nature,” but it isn’t clear where the board stands on that matter.