Education culture war finds new target: pride flags in classrooms

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The pride flags, which were created to promote unity, are branded as political and divisive in some schools across the country. A recent example: An Oregon school board banned educators from displaying flags on Tuesday.

“We don’t pay our teachers to impose their political views on our students. This is not their place, ”Newberg school board member Brian Shannon, author of the policy, said in a taped board meeting.

Several other school officials and students across the country have targeted LGBTQ symbols. A teacher resigned in Missouri last month after he was told to remove a rainbow flag from his classroom and couldn’t discuss “sexual preferences” at school. Several weeks ago, students at a high school near Jacksonville, Fla. Were accused of harassing classmates at a Gay Straight Alliance club and stomping on pride flags. And in August, symbols of pride were targeted at a high school near Dallas, where rainbow stickers were ordered to be scratched from classroom doors.

Students, teachers and parents gathered in Newberg, Ore. On Thursday to oppose an impending school board vote that would ban Black Lives Matter and pride flags or banners in schools. John Rudoff / Sipa United States via AP

In most cases, administrators have said that LGBTQ emblems are divisive and “political”. LGBTQ students, parents and teachers affected by the bans argue the new rules harm a vulnerable group of young people.

“Feeling safe shouldn’t be political,” said Victor Frausto, 16, a student at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, just outside of Dallas.

“For me, when a teacher put this sticker on, it was basically conveying the message that ‘when you come here you won’t be hated for who you love or what you identify with,'” said Frausto, who is gay. .

The decision to ban Rainbow Pride stickers sent a very different message, Frausto said.

“Seeing how these stickers were taken off, you get the message ‘I’m not going in here, I shouldn’t be here’,” he said.

Students, teachers and parents gathered in Newberg, Ore. On Thursday to oppose an impending school board vote that would put up Black Lives Matter and Pride flags or banners in schools.John Rudoff / Sipa United States via AP

Frausto, who is the president of his school’s Gay Straight Alliance, or GSA, said the rainbow stickers were removed overnight without warning.

He and other GSA members brought it to the attention of their GSA sponsors, a group of teachers who had previously received an email from the school district about it.

“While we appreciate the feeling of reaching out to students who may not have always had such support before, we want to set a different tone this year,” the email reads. a teacher shared with NBC News.

Educators reassured the group that they would push for an explanation and fight to recover the stickers from the classroom doors, Frausto said. But over the next few days, two teachers were escorted off campus, he said.

A spokesperson for the Irving School District declined to identify the teachers and, when asked about their alleged dismissals, told NBC News that the district “does not comment on matters related to employees.”

A student walked out at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas.Courtesy of Victor Frausto

In response to the sticker removal, hundreds of students held a class walkout last week. In a video posted Wednesday by the community journalism platform Smash Da Topic, students can be heard shouting, “Bring back our stickers!”

After the protest, the district defended the movement in a declaration as a way “to ensure that all students feel safe regardless of their background or identity” by maintaining political impartiality.

Newberg administrators also cited political neutrality in defending their policy. After coming under heavy criticism for banning the pride and Black Lives Matter flags in particular, school board members widened the ban last month to prevent educators from displaying any symbols the board deemed. “Political, quasi-political or controversial”.

“Their role is to teach the approved curriculum, and that’s all this policy does, is to make sure it happens in our schools,” said Shannon, one of the seven board members. school who led the policy, in a live board meeting Tuesday night.

Students, teachers and parents gathered in Newberg, Ore. On Thursday to oppose an impending school board vote that would ban Black Lives Matter and Pride flags or banners in schools.John Rudoff / Sipa United States via AP

Newberg City Council and the Newberg Education Association, a union representing 280 district educators and staff, spoke out against the policy, and the Oregon State Board of Education called for its removal. Members of the community have also called for Shannon’s recall.

“As a gay man with no children and no real desire to have children, I feel like I should never know the names of school board members, let alone have to stand up against them,” said Zachary Goff from Newberg, who started the petition, which has collected over 1,000 signatures.

“I think I speak for a lot of people in my community, but we can’t sit here and let that happen,” Goff added. “They chose a very bad city to be the guinea pig.”

Chelsea Shotts, 29, who is bisexual and works at an elementary school as a behavioral advocate in the school district, said her mental health had deteriorated since the district introduced the policy over the summer .

“If I only cared about myself, I would just stop – like, easily stop and go,” Shotts said. “But the point is, I’m in Newberg and I’m in Dundee because I love these students, and they deserve everything.

“I would rather be able to stay here and keep doing the job instead of being attacked by a culture war that four board members have started,” Shotts added.

Chelsea Shotts, a behavioral interventionist from the Newberg School District, confronts a counter-protester during a protest against Pride and Black Lives Matter flags last week in Newberg, Oregon.Courtesy of Chelsea Shotts

School administrators aren’t the only ones to tackle pride flags and LGBTQ symbols this school year.

Police in Blacksburg, Va., Are investigating several thefts of pride flags outside a Virginia Tech religious center. In one case, the LGBTQ symbols were replaced with two Confederate flags. And in Georgia, a high school student was accused last month of attack another student draped in a pride flag in a school cafeteria.

Advocates have long warned educators of the disproportionate rates of bullying, harassment and mental health issues faced by LGBTQ youth.

A survey this year by The Trevor Project, an organization for suicide prevention and crisis intervention among LGBTQ youth, found that 42% of the nearly 35,000 LGBTQ youth surveyed had seriously considered suicide in the past. the last year. More than half of transgender and non-binary youth surveyed seriously considered suicide, he also found.

A separate survey conducted by The Trevor Project last year found that LGBTQ youth who reported having at least one LGBTQ affirmation space also reported lower rates of suicide attempts.

Beth Woolsy’s children, Cai and Cael Woolsy, both 14, on their first day of school in Newberg, Ore.Courtesy of Beth Woolsy

Beth Woolsy, who is bisexual and has two LGBTQ children who attend school in Newberg, said the heartbreaking numbers weighed on her as she sent her children back to school every day.

“When we understand that it is really life or death that we are talking about when we send our children to school, and then they have lost the security of knowing who they can turn to and who to turn to. can expect to defend them, it’s really scary, ”she said.

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