Special education kindergarten teacher Sarah Whaley was suspended last week by the Waukesha, Wisconsin School District for refusing to take down a Pride flag she hung in her classroom.
Now LGBTQ allies in the community are standing up to support her.
Students and staff are wearing rainbow colors today to show their support for Whaley as the school district maintains its policy banning all “political” signage from classrooms, which it says includes LGBTQ messaging.
The district – which has also been sued for failing to adequately protect students from Covid-19 – instituted this ban in August. At the same time, it stopped all staff diversity training and ended the District Equity Leadership Team. Whaley told the Wisconsin Examiner that the equity initiative was one big reason she chose to work in the district.
The sign ban has been instituted inconsistently throughout the school district. Some principals have not enforced the rules and allowed teachers to hang whatever they want. Whaley is the only teacher who has received a suspension for flying a flag.
Ever since the ban, community members at schools where it has been enforced have been fighting for the right to display signs, testifying to the conservative school board that the current policy is contributing to a rise in bullying of marginalized students.
Not everyone feels that way, however. At the December 14 school board meeting, a parent named Stacy Keene – who doesn’t have children in the district’s schools – blasted Whaley for her refusal to take down the flag and stated, “You are paid to educate my child, not protest in the classroom.”
Others spoke in support of Whaley, including a high school student who urged the administration to provide Whaley with a written apology and pay her for the time she missed while suspended.
Whaley said she remains undeterred. She is currently contesting the suspension with the support of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and said she has no plans to leave the district. Even more, she will not stop making sure all students know that they belong.
After her suspension, she returned to find out the school had taken her Pride flag, so she hung up a new rainbow sign. This one said, “The district liked my flag so much they decided to borrow it. But the truth remains. You Belong! You are loved. You are supported. You are welcome. You are important. You are beautiful. You matter.”