News (USA)

Protesters demand school district change Pride flag removal policy

One flag pole flying an American flag and a rainbow flag.
Photo: Shutterstock

Demonstrators gathered outside a Springfield, Missouri high school on Monday to protest a school board policy that has resulted in the removal of Pride flags from classrooms.

Among the protesters outside Kickapoo High School holding signs that said “Acceptance Saves Lives” and “Hate Has No Home Here,” was Brett Baxley, a local drag performer and alum of the Springfield Public School district.

“Issues in Springfield Public Schools are really close to my heart. As an existing queer person in SPS, I know how difficult it can be in this area,” said Baxley, who organized the protest. “I know that teachers who were allies were one of the only reasons that I was able to make it through my high school experience.”

In an email last week, Kickapoo High School principal Bill Powers instructed “a handful” of teachers at the city’s largest high school to remove the rainbow flags from their classrooms in order to be in compliance with the school board’s staff conduct policy. The policy, which was adopted in 2014 and revised in 2019, does not explicitly ban Pride flags.

“I’m writing today in regards to the Pride flag each of you has in your classroom,” Powers wrote in the email. “It was recently brought to my attention that we should not be displaying the flags.”

When asked about the flags, Springfield Public School chief communications officer Stephen Hall noted that the staff conduct policy states that “employees will not represent their personal opinions as the opinion of the district.”

“This applies to speech and to the use of district property, including the classroom. When employee conduct does not align with this policy, it is the district’s expectation that supervisors hold team members accountable for maintaining a professional standard,” Hall wrote in a statement.

“It was really disheartening to hear that the administration was fighting against the few teachers who were making an effort to make queer people feel more accepted in the classroom,” said Baxley.

State Rep. Crystal Quade (D) was on hand and spoke to the protesters. “I came out today to show support for our LGBTQ students and faculty,” she said. She noted that the issue was “a districtwide conversation about policy” and that she did not want to single out Powers.

In an interview with the Springfield News-Leader, Missouri State University assistant professor of sociology Kyler Sherman-Wilkins called the protest a way to “call attention to a particular issue and to highlight the fact that people are energized and mobilized.”

Sherman-Wilkins has been addressing the school board for over a year, advocating for diversity training, inclusive curriculum, and support for children and staff from underrepresented backgrounds. Along with the protesters he supports challenging the board policy that resulted in the removal of Pride flags.

PFLAG Springfield board president Aaron Schekorra said that the issue is bigger than the board policy or the flag removal at one high school.

“We’re not interested as an organization in making this about one administrator, or one teacher, or a handful of individuals,” he said. “This is about our school district and what it means for our community. And we are interested in looking at the bigger picture, how our district as a whole, from the top-down, can be a better place for all students.”

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