The school district told parents in an email it would investigate, but did not apologize.
The pictures, which were shared on social media over a thousand times, showed several students posing in front of the Confederate flags during Jefferson Forest High School’s “Country vs. Country Club” spirit day.
“(The day) was basically encouraging students to come dressed up as a farmer or a highty-flighty high society-type,” Bedford County spokesman Ryan Edwards told Fox News. The county is about an hour northeast of Roanoke.
Instead, two students showed up to school wearing Confederate flags as capes. Three others draped the yellow Gadsden flag around their shoulders and a fourth did the same with an American flag, Edwards said.
“At some point, one student sent a group text to those wearing the flags around their necks between fifth and sixth periods, telling them to meet at a location for a photo op,” Edwards said, adding the pictures were taken during a 30-second window when no teachers or administrators were around.
The school allowed the students to wear the flags as part of their attire, Edwards said. The school, which has a low percentage of minority students, does not have a policy that prohibits Confederate clothing from being worn.
“What we have is a student code of conduct that prohibits any action or materials or clothing that causes any disruption,” Edwards said. “The administrators did not feel that a disruption was present so no measures were taken on Monday to remove the flags.”
After a parent complained, the county sent parents a note Wednesday promising the school would work to create a climate where everyone feels welcome.
For some, it was too little, too late.
“This is a wound that’s been allowed to fester,” parent Lyman Connor told WHSV. “It was people walking the halls with Confederate flags ... in the cafeteria.”
Connor said his daughter and other students at Jefferson Forest had been bullied by racism. On Tuesday, he took to social media to say the school had “overtly racist students.”
Tiffany Forest, the parent of a 10th grader at the school, said the incident had the potential to make minority students feel uncomfortable and called on school officials to issue an apology.
“Schools should be a safe and an inviting place,” she told The News & Advance. “No child should be made to feel less of a person. If students are allowed to display the Confederate flag, what will they do next?”
The school incident came amid calls for the resignation of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, over a racist photo that appeared in his medical school yearbook. Northam has since said he did not appear in the photo and has refused calls to resign
As the Northam controversy grew, sexual-assault accusations emerged against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, which he has denied. And, state Attorney General Mark Herring, also a Democrat, revealed he'd worn blackface during college.