CHRISTIANSBURG — Talks to try to allow Montgomery County teachers to place the Pride flag and associated crests in their classrooms have so far failed, as several school board members have raised concerns about the possibility of creating a “slippery slope” for other symbols and even of marginalizing certain groups of students.
The latest discussion of a suggestion to adjust the district’s policy on teachers’ classroom postings came on Tuesday night, when several students showed up again to advocate for a change that would allow teachers to put up the flags in their classrooms.
The call to change the policy in recent months has been driven, in part, by students and other community members who have said the pride flags do not align with a political cause. They also said that allowing flags and other related symbols helps ensure that students who are part of the LGBTQ+ community are given a place of acceptance and protection.
It “lets students know that they can talk to teachers about bullying, harassment related to their sexuality and gender,” Cedar Krisch, co-chair of the Blacksburg High School Pride Club, told the school board.
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Krisch’s comment, along with those of others, was generally picked up by part of the school board. However, other board members have expressed concerns about the potential impact on the road.
“We also have these students, whether you want to admit it or not, who feel uncomfortable with the images in the classroom,” said board member Penny Franklin, who clarified that she doesn’t personally was not at all against the pride flag. “In their society, in their environment, they are taught that it is a danger if we recognize this group or if we recognize this group of these types of people.
Franklin said it opened up the neighborhood to a number of parents “screaming and shouting” about their children who couldn’t carry certain items or were uncomfortable themselves. She said allowing one emblem could open the door to others, including Confederate flags and swastikas.
“These are things we said no to, especially a ‘swastika,'” Franklin said, adding that many others did not share the same views as her on certain flags. “It creates an unfathomable situation. for them. Just like a Black Lives Matter poster. It’s uncomfortable for people to see that. I don’t understand why, but it is.
“We just can’t let one group be able to say ‘I feel safe if this is in place’ when there are so many others who can’t.”
Other board members said comparisons between the Pride Flag and other symbols such as Confederate symbols cannot be used as an argument to keep the Pride Flag out of the classroom.
“I don’t think you can compare the two. I don’t think a pride flag represents hate, evil and ugliness,” board chair Sue Kass said. “If we’re just whitewashing our classroom, how do people learn to accept if you never point out the issues they need to learn to accept? … There is a message here that hurts me.
Kass also called the district policy in question archaic and pointed out that it was written almost two decades ago.
“Back then, if you were gay or lesbian, you could never even say that or talk to anyone about it. Things like that were never even accepted,” she said. “Our world has changed.”
Franklin pushed back, saying she wasn’t suggesting the district pretend there weren’t student differences.
“That’s crazy,” she said. “It’s about making sure we have a safe space for everyone and acknowledging whether you like it or not, that there are kids who believe that if you recognize this group, that’s something you I should fear, something I should stand against. .”
School board member Dana Partin said she had trouble with the call to allow pride flags in the classroom because she thought it might make other students feel unsafe or unwelcome – and she added that it is the board’s job to make sure all students are safe and get an education. She also said comments from students who spoke on Tuesday about dealing with harassment raise questions about whether an existing anti-bullying policy has been properly implemented.
School board member Mark Cherbaka later said that anyone who isn’t comfortable with the LGBTQ+ community — and the teachers who support the group — is “just bigoted.”
Cherbaka, however, said he would support at least an exploration of possible changes to policies that would also allow the district to avoid going down the “slippery slope” that other board members have referred to.
Although no formal action has been taken on the current matter, a suggestion has been made that a district equity committee explore possible ways to move forward on the matter.
“I’m looking at this and I think it’s a solvable problem,” Cherbaka said.