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HARRISBURG — Two students were suspended from Harrisburg Middle School this week because of fighting, possibly in connection with the recent flare-up over the Confederate flag.

One of the students involved reportedly posted a photograph on Friday of the Confederate flag being burned. That was a day after a high school student was sent home for refusing administrators’ demands that he turn his T-shirt bearing the flag inside-out.

Superintendent Michael Gauch could only confirm the two middle school students were suspended because of fighting. He said he had no knowledge why it occurred.

“I do know that my building principal told me there was a fight at the end of school. I don’t know the logistics behind it. We have a lot of fights,” Gauch said.

The mother of a student uninvolved in the fight indicated the student had posted a photo of a Confederate flag burning on his Facebook page. A check of the page confirms that statement, posted last Friday.

The woman declined to give her name for fear of retaliation. Attempts were unsuccessful to reach the mother of the student in question. The other student involved is unknown at this time.

The woman also indicated one of the students was called a derogatory term commonly directed at African-Americans and has become a target.

Some of about 30 high school students were sent home in the days after the initial demand Thursday that a student, 18-year-old Trenton Byrd, change his shirt bearing a Confederate flag. Wearing similar clothing, most of the students complied to change their attire, though some did not and were sent home.

None of the high school students, including Byrd, have been disciplined, just sent home with excused absences.

Gauch said the initial request was made because it was considered a violation of district policy to cause disruptions to the educational process. Some students complained about Byrd’s T-shirt.

Dozens of people — Byrd said it was up to 50 — also held a rally Saturday in support of the flag. On Monday, several parents removed their children from the high school because of rumors of a weapon in the building that officials have said were false.

The next day, Gauch said the climate at the high school was calm and that it has remained so as of Thursday afternoon.

Gauch said he is unaware of any violent escalation within his schools in connection with the flag controversy and that he does not have information to suggest that tempers are rising.

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Nick Mariano is a reporter for The Southern Illinoisan covering Saline, Franklin and Jefferson counties.

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