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Virginia District to Ban Offensive Symbols From School Property

Clothing, emblems, and jewelry displaying symbols deemed offensive and disruptive to the learning environment will be banned from school property in a southwestern Virginia school district.

According to the Roanoke Times, the Montgomery County school board voted on Tuesday to create a policy that will prohibit "all clothing, emblems, jewelry or decals, worn or displayed, that would interfere with the learning environment from all school property in the county."

The board's decision came after the district's Christiansburg High School suspended about two dozen students last month for wearing clothing with the rebel flag during a rally to support the flag. The school had banned confederate symbols from student vehicles in the parking lot. (The school's dress code has banned confederate symbols since 2002, according to the paper.)

Brenda Drake, a spokeswoman for the school board, told Education Week that the motion to ban offensive emblems at Tuesday's meeting was unexpected and that the language does not specifically mention confederate symbols, she said. 

The policy will amend the district's existing dress code. According to Drake, Tuesday's motion directs "the administration and/or legal counsel to draft a revised policy for the student dress code to include all Montgomery County schools that there will be no clothing, emblems, jewelry, and/or decals allowed that would cause a disruption to the learning environment in any school."

Drake said the policy will align with Supreme Court decisions that allow schools to ban emblems deemed offensive to the learning environment.  

The paper reported that residents at the meeting spoke both in favor of the ban and in support of confederate symbols.  

Since a gunman killed nine black congregants at a church in Charleston, S.C., in June, a debate has emerged over whether confederate flags and symbols should remain in public spaces. Schools have been wrestling with whether to remove the names of confederate officials and sympathizers from their buildings. Municipalities have been openly deliberating whether to rename roads and remove statues.

In the immediate wake of the shooting, the state of South Carolina removed the confederate battle flag from the capitol grounds in Columbia.

In the 9,600-student Montgomery County school district, board member Penny Franklin said the decision was about creating a safe learning environment for students.

Community members will have the opportunity to comment on the policy before it's adopted. And it's possible that a policy won't be adopted until later this year, Franklin told the newspaper. 

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