A high school in Stoughton, Massachusetts was the site of a protest Tuesday night over the school’s ban on what it calls “political” flags and posters in classrooms.
The action was organized by Stoughton High School senior Olivia Tran, who was suspended last week for leading a student demonstration against the policy during class hours. Tran draped a large Pride flag outside the school’s administration office in that protest and the group refused to return to class.
Tuesday’s demonstration took place in and outside a previously scheduled school committee meeting, where Tran encouraged students and residents of the school district to “advocate for the disenfranchised.”
School Superintendent Thomas Raab instituted the speech policy in September, when he informed teachers that classrooms were to be considered “neutral” spaces. Flags with “political” messages, including Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, would be banned, and teachers who failed to comply would be subject to “disciplinary action.”
Three teachers at the school initially balked at the request and were called to the principal’s office, according to local news outlet The Enterprise. After receiving a letter threatening “further disciplinary action,” each complied.
The ban originally applied only to flags. Now all material deemed “political” is forbidden.
Teachers were advised not to discuss the policy with students, according to staff, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisal.
Dozens of students and parents turned out for the demonstration and meeting.
Superintendent Raab addressed the group before public comment.
“It is important to have allies at school,” he said. “We have a fully trained, educated staff and we have provided teachers with lanyards and progressive ally stickers.”
“But we must keep classrooms neutral,” he said. “We can’t pick and choose which flags are appropriate or not.”
While committee members generally agreed with the superintendent’s policy, they faulted Raab for a lack of communication.
“Thank you for acknowledging the community’s concerns and for being a part of discussions with us,” committee chair Sandra Groppi told Raab. “It is important, when implementing new policies, to do things slowly and take everything into consideration.”
Vice-chair Katie Pina-Enokian added: “This community is very strong, so it would’ve been important to discuss before.”
Public comment included a rabbi who cited Black Lives Matter and Antifa protests as reasons to ban political speech in classrooms and a local parent who advocated for the American flag: “It’s for everyone.”
Olivia Tran, who spoke with her mother by her side, was cheered on by fellow students.
“I am bisexual, and I am an Asian American girl,” Tran said.
“There is no ‘neutral.’ Give us the justice we deserve.”