(INDYSTAR.com) - About two dozen students at Lapel High School broke out their Confederate flag clothing on Aug. 30 and wore it to school.
They did it the next day, too, and that's when school officials stepped in and banned the gear, mostly T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with the controversial rebel battle flag.
A principal in Bloomington, Ind., took similar action last fall, when students wore a Confederate flag at that school.
The Lapel students also decorated their vehicles with Confederate flags and arrived last Wednesday at the school in a caravan, disturbing some of their fellow students and causing administrators to bring them in for conferences.
"We sat down and spoke to each student one-on-one and discussed the situation and what their intentions were," said Chad Kemerly, principal of the small Madison County school. "They said they were trying to support the Southern heritage of the flag and not people’s opinion of what the flag may stand for.
"We talked about the Southern heritage, and that for many people, that flag stands for racism. We emphasized they need to know what the message (is) they’re sending."
The students were permitted to wear the clothes all day, Kemerly said. No altercations or incidents resulted, he said, although "people were upset."
The high school has 450 students, eight of whom are African-American, Kemerly said.
The next day, the students returned to school decked out in the same clothes, and this time "it caused a disruption," Kemerly said. "We weren't able to carry on some classes as usual. There were discussions in the hallways taking place that shouldn't have been taking place."
The altercations were verbal, he said. "There was nothing physical."
None of the students were disciplined, however.
Wearing the Confederate flag became a violation of the school dress code as of Friday, Sept. 1.
"The substantial disruption caused us to prohibit that symbol," Kemerly said.
Lapel, population 2,400, is overwhelmingly white. In 2010, according to the U.S. Census, not one African-American person lived in the town.
Kemerly, 37, is in his fifth year as the school's principal. He grew up in Lapel and is a 1999 graduate of the high school. Lapel is "not a racist community," he said.
In October, Principal Jeffry M. Henderson of Bloomington High School North also banned displays of the Confederate flag on students' clothing or personal items, after several wore it draped over their shoulders in the hallways and in a classroom.
"This issue has evolved into one that has created a substantial disruption to the educational environment," Henderson said at the time.
Call IndyStar reporter Will Higgins at (317) 444-6043. Follow him on Twitter: @WillRHiggins.