By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - A Virginia high school on Thursday suspended 21 students after they arrived wearing clothing emblazoned with the Confederate flag in violation of school policy, a ban put in place after racially charged incidents.
Christiansburg High School in southwestern Virginia's Montgomery County forbids students from displaying the battle flag used by the pro-slavery South during the U.S. Civil War on their clothing or vehicles, school spokeswoman Brenda Drake said.
"Incidents of racial tension at CHS support the continued prohibition of the Confederate flag in the building," Drake said in a statement. "We are not issuing a judgment on the flag, but know that not allowing it at CHS supports a peaceful educational environment."
Twenty-four students arrived wearing clothing bearing the Confederate symbol, but three agreed to change and were allowed into class, Drake said.
Four students received in-school suspensions after declining to adhere to the dress code, and 15 students received one-day suspensions. Two others were suspended for a longer period for using threatening or abusive language, she said.
The school has about 1,000 students.
Display of the Confederate flag has been a contentious issue in Virginia and other parts of the South since a white gunman allegedly killed nine black worshipers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June.
The suspect charged in the slayings, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, confessed to the shootings saying he hoped to spark a race war, according to prosecutors. On Wednesday his attorneys offered to enter a guilty plea if it would spare him a death sentence.
Roof was seen posing on social media with a Confederate flag before the shootings.
South Carolina removed the Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol grounds in July.
In Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe ordered the removal of the Confederate flag from state-issued license plates.
A circuit court judge in Virginia's Patrick County removed a portrait of a Confederate general from the courtroom in August.
"Confederate symbols are, simply put, offensive to African-Americans," the judge, Martin Clark, said in a statement about the portrait.
(Reporting by Gary Robertson; Editing by Scott Malone and Eric Beech)