TARPON SPRINGS — After the last bell rang Wednesday, a student walked across the Tarpon Springs High School campus.
Around his shoulders, he wore a Confederate flag.
The controversial symbol sparked a fight among students, school principal Clinton Herbic said. As at least four students brawled, many other students jumped in to stop it.
Nobody was seriously hurt. But brothers Michael Manis, a 16-year-old junior, and Peter Manis, a 15-year-old freshman, were attacked as part of an ongoing racial feud, their family said Thursday.
It was Michael who carried the flag, which is most commonly associated with the Confederate cause. It's a battle flag — a blue cross with white stars over a red background. But the 19th century symbol was also flown during the 20th century as an expression of resistance to the civil rights movement.
Herbic said the school would look at each case individually if students brought the Confederate flag on campus.
"Their First Amendment right does not stop at this schoolhouse door," he said, adding that the school would respond to the use of a Confederate flag if it threatened the safety of students or led to a student being harmed.
Michael Manis carried the flag Wednesday because he "loves the flag" and "respects why the flag is here," said his 23-year-old brother, Chris.
"Apparently, all the African-American guys found that offensive," he said.
A St. Petersburg College student, Chris Manis contacted the Tampa Bay Times on behalf of the family because his parents mostly speak Greek.
The school is investigating how the fight started. Herbic said he heard conflicting reports about whether racial slurs or other offensive words were uttered.
By the Manis family's account, a group of 20 to 25 students confronted Michael and tried to grab the flag. When Michael pushed them away, he was punched. Michael fought back in self-defense, Chris Manis said, with Peter joining in to support him.
The two brothers now face a 10-day suspension, the family said.
The school is still pursuing disciplinary actions against all four students involved in the fight, the principal said.
Citing privacy laws, Herbic declined to identify the students by name or race.
He said he hopes the incident serves as a learning experience for the entire school.
"We're a microcosm of society," he said. "Anything could happen, and we hope we react in the correct way."
But problems still exist between "any Greek person and this group" that attacked the brothers, Chris Manis said.
"Now it's just going to be one big war," he said, "and I don't understand why."
The Manises say they intend to pursue legal action against the students involved, the principal and a school resource officer.
"Hate crimes," Chris Manis said, "can go both ways."