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More than 70 people attended the Bedford County School Board meeting on Feb. 21 to voice concerns over an incident at Jefferson Forest High School shared on social media earlier that month showing students displaying Confederate flags on campus.

Members of a group that have petitioned for a ban on Confederate flags in Bedford County Public Schools said this week a proposed agreement between the division and federal government “will not do nearly enough” to address an incident at Jefferson Forest High School involving the Confederate battle flag.

Bedford County Public Schools issued a statement Friday saying the division is entering into a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to resolve allegations investigated by OCR following a complaint filed against the division in May.

The complaint came after the Bedford County School Board approved changes to the division’s student conduct code for the 2019-20 school year that did not include a ban on the Confederate flag.

The complaint was filed by members of the Bedford County chapter of the Hate-Free School Coalition — which was founded in 2016 in Orange County, North Carolina, to petition the Orange County School Board to ban the Confederate flag — in response to an incident Feb. 4, the first day of Jefferson Forest High School’s Spirit Week.

During a class change, several students photographed themselves displaying Confederate battle flags in different areas across campus. One photo shows a student draped in the flag, captioned with a defense of the banner as a symbol of “history and heritage.”

Dozens of residents attended meetings of the Bedford County School Board in the months following the incident to express their opinions on how the division should address the issue, many calling for a ban on the Confederate flag.

In response to the incident, division officials recommended a revision to the school system’s student conduct code for the 2019-20 school year — with an emphasis on the dress code — that said, “BCPS operates in a manner that respects differences based on sex, race, color, national origin, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, ancestry, marital or parental status” and bans “attire that has language or images that are offensive, profane or vulgar” and “is reasonably likely to cause a substantial disruption to the learning environment.”

The Bedford County School Board approved the revision — which did not list any banned items — by a 5-2 vote during its May 9 meeting.

A spokesman with the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., confirmed that OCR started an investigation in May after the complaint was filed but could not comment further on the investigation or the resolution agreement.

“While the district has signed a resolution agreement, a resolution letter has not been issued and the matter is still pending,” the spokesman said in an email on Monday. “Because this is an open investigation, OCR cannot provide additional information or confirm case-specific details.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education website, complaints against a division can be “resolved before the conclusion of an investigation, if the recipient expresses an interest in resolving the complaint and OCR determines that it is appropriate to resolve the complaint because OCR’s investigation has identified issues that can be addressed through a resolution agreement.”

According to the resolution agreement — which was signed by BCPS Superintendent Doug Schuch — the division has agreed to:

  • Conduct “refresher training” for Jefferson Forest High School administrators on the issue of handling racial and national origin harassment complaints and provide documentation to OCR that it conducted the required training by Dec. 19.
  • Evaluate all reports of racial and national origin harassment at Jefferson Forest High School during the 2018-19 school year to determine whether the division needs to take additional steps to fully investigate any of the reports and complete any additional investigations by Jan. 31, 2020, and submit reports of any investigations to OCR by Feb. 15, 2020.
  • Administer a “climate survey” to all students at Jefferson Forest High School by the end of 2019 to assess the extent and impact of racial and national origin harassment within their school community and submit a report of the survey’s results to OCR by Jan. 15; and
  • Review the results of the climate survey and the outcome of all investigations of alleged racial and national origin harassment at Jefferson Forest High School to determine whether a hostile environment based on race or national origin existed for any specific students or for the school as a whole and submit a report to OCR describing the results of the review by March 1.

Jessica Taylor, a member of the Bedford County chapter of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, said she and several other parents met with Jefferson Forest Principal Brian Wilson on Monday to review the resolution agreement. Taylor said she was “disappointed and frustrated” that the agreement does not address the issue of a ban on Confederate flags, which was the basis of the original complaint.

“It really doesn’t solve anything,” Taylor said. “This does nothing to address the issue of banning Confederate flags in our schools. You can program and meet and survey all you want, but if there are not consequences for certain actions we won’t get anywhere.”

Taylor said her group will continue to petition the school board to ban Confederate flags even if OCR concludes its investigation and issues the division a resolution letter.

“Once we get a ban, then we can start to look at other issues,” Taylor said. “But a ban has to be the first step.”

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