A school district in Indiana has banned teachers from flying the Pride flag, saying it is a political position and that they expect teachers to hold neutral views in the classroom. Three teachers at Pendleton Heights High School were ordered to remove their flags by the school board.
Several students, dismayed by the decision, have made a petition challenging the school board’s decision. It already has garnered 3,800 signatures in under a week.
The principal first ordered the teachers to take their flags down on May 18. The South Madison Community Board stood behind the decision. The school community was informed first about the sudden ban via complaints by teachers on social media.
Principal Connie Rickert claimed that because the school wants to have a “welcoming environment for all,” the flags had to be removed because they violated their “political paraphernalia” policy.
“Teachers are legally obligated to maintain viewpoint neutrality during their official duties to ensure all students can focus on learning and we can maintain educational activities and school operations. Our counselors are trained to respond to any student who desires support,” Rickert claimed according to the Herald-Bulletin.
Bill Hutton, the school board of trustees president, said in an email to the school community that the “issue” of having a Pride flag is a “double-edged sword.” He also told a concerned parent that he “understand[s] your concern,” and that he “support[s] all students no matter what their choices in life happen to be,” suggesting students choose their gender or sexuality.
“If an LGBTQ+ flag is allowed to be displayed, then any other group would have the same ability.”
He then compared flags to hate symbols, suggesting that the school would have to fly other flags “that could include such flags as supporting white supremacy, which is in direct conflict with LGBTQ+ [people].”
Tai Wills, a bisexual student at Pendleton Heights, is one of several dismayed by the school board’s stance.
“Why would you compare a racist flag? Those two have nothing to do with each other,” the 16-year-old questioned. “One is about inclusiveness and the other is about hate and exclusion, and I don’t think that’s the same thing at all.”
Wills noted that several LGBTQ people in recent years have been subject to such severe bullying that they have attempted or committed suicide. She is also a victim of bullying at the school, and she believes this is taking the school in the opposite direction.
“It’s already hard dealing with bullying and judgmental kids, and now you can’t even have a flag saying, ‘We support you in the classroom,’” she said.
Wills has tried to stand up for other LGBTQ students and even started a Gay-Straight Alliance. Pendleton Heights refused to let her put up fliers or solicit donations, she said. “Their only excuse was, ‘It’s a sensitive topic.’ It didn’t really feel like we were a club because we weren’t allowed to do much.”
Missy Darr, a stepparent who is pansexual, as is her child, added, “I’m trying to see it from both sides, but the problem is the school is seeing this as a political issue. This is my child’s life. They were born this way — frankly, the same way I was.”
Another student, Bryce Axel-Adams, has started a Change.org petition calling for the school district to “allow [the] Pride Flag to be flown in classrooms in Pendleton.”
Axel-Adams told the Indianapolis Star, “We’re tired of having so little representation. We’re tired of having people act like our feelings don’t matter, like our mental health doesn’t matter.”
“Having a pride flag is one of the clearest ways to say ‘I support you, and I’m here for you. You are loved,'” Axel-Adams’ petition reads. “That is so important for LGBTQ+ youth, we have always been told that teachers will always be there for us, and being able to easily identify teachers we can safely go to is extremely important to our mental health.”
In an update, Axel-Adams said that the school “changed their argument from the flag being political speech to taking it down to avoid a discrimination lawsuit,” but he is continuing on with the petition until they allow the flags regardless.