At least one teacher has left their job after uncorroborated “external challenges” were made against a school district in Three Rivers, Michigan, regarding their ability to display Pride flags or other pro-LGBTQ items.
Russell Ball, a physical education and health teacher at Three Rivers Middle School, was one of several educators that received emails sent all across the six-school district body on November 22. The first email instructed them that they have to take down their Pride flags before students arrived to their classrooms that day, and keep them down until further notice. Ball, already suffering from burnout, decided to leave rather than compromise his identity and the representation he brings to the classroom.
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Ball, who is bisexual, 43 years-old and also a father of five, told local NBC affiliate WOOD, “To me, the flag represents love and inclusion for everybody, not just whoever is of the LGBTQIA+ community. I felt very disheartened and saddened.”
Ball, had been a teacher up to that point for “10-plus years.” He believed that “The students losing that representation throughout the classrooms really hurt, losing my own representation in the classroom really hurt. It was just something I was not prepared to do.”
“It all comes down to having some open communication and building understanding that we’re not out to vilify anybody, but we are here and we do exist,” Ball added.
Faced with having to rescind that representation to his students on the board’s direction, Ball instead decided to quit, and recorded a viral video right after explaining just why.
“I tendered my resignation today, drove home for the last time, and won’t be returning.”
Ball said the burnout from working through the last few years and a pandemic was enough, but he drew the line at “being an active participant in the suppression and oppression of an already marginalized group that I’m part of.”
“By removing it, I feel like I am being told that I am invalidated, that I don’t belong,” Ball said, “and that’s not a message I want to send to myself or any of my students.”
He also noted, “The Pride flag is not a political statement. It’s a human right statement. We’re all human. We should all have the same rights… but we don’t.”
I resigned today after 12 years in education when the district demanded I remove my pride flag from my classroom. I refuse to be an active part of the oppression and suppression of an already marginalized student population. The PRIDE flag isn't political @wwmtnews @outfrontkzoo
— Russell Ball (@coach_lardie) November 22, 2021
@russellballertoday I resigned as a teacher. #resignation #teacher #pride♬ original sound – Russell Ball
The Three Rivers school district claimed in a second email to educators that they were acting on the advice of the District Attorney of St. Joseph County, Michigan.
Ball wasn’t the only teacher in his school that had Pride flags up, and he tried to explain why he felt he couldn’t take his down to his principal. The principal understood, but told him the directive came from the district’s superintendent.
Whether other teachers quit, plan to quit or disobey the order, remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Ball plans to spend the newfound opening in his schedule by being a stay at home parent. Administrators at his school did not try to reach out or ask him to come back, he told MLive earlier this week.
Three Rivers Interim Superintendent Nikki Nash issued a statement after Ball’s story made headlines. Nash told the public that “We continue to work with the district’s legal firm and board of education to ensure we are providing a safe learning environment for all students.”
Nash also noted, “There is a board meeting on December 6th,” which is already supposed to have record attendance in the small town of 8,000 right along the border between Michigan and Indiana.
The school itself has not issued any statement and the person(s) behind the complaint remains unnamed publicly.