Community members and Superintendent of Schools Steven Lockard said the pride flags are used to show support for LGBTQ students, but school board members said they believe the flags are political symbols and that displaying them in schools was against the school system’s recently revised policy of political neutrality. . This policy requires employees to “remain neutral about political issues, parties, and candidates during classroom instruction” and avoid discussing such matters unless they are “aligned with the approved curriculum.”
The school board meeting opened with Lockard referring to the distribution of rainbow flags in public schools on April 8 by parent Stephanie Brown. The flags were paid for by the Westminster chapter of the non-profit organization PFLAG, which stands for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
“[The flags] were made available to any member of staff who wanted one, and since then all remaining flags have been collected to be sent to [the] central office,” Lockard said. “Staff are not required to accept donations if they choose not to. It is also important to reiterate that Carroll County Public Schools, as we talk about in all of our meetings, strives to meet all of the needs of students in our system.
Brown said she organized the effort to support her 13-year-old child, who had been bullied for being an LGBTQ advocate. She said the idea to distribute the flags came to her after a January school board meeting in which the school board updated its policy to limit political conversations in classrooms.
“After that board meeting, I contacted central office and posted social media messages to a local community group asking if community members would be interested in acquiring the flags,” Brown said. . “I got a lot of interest from the community, and the PFLAG organization offered me to [purchase] all the flags for me. We couldn’t have distributed all the flags without PFLAG.
During the public comment period that followed at the council meeting, nearly 20 parents spoke about the flags and were split on the issue. Some said they didn’t want elementary and middle school students asking about the flags in their classrooms; supporters spoke of students being bullied and argued that the flags were necessary to make them feel more comfortable; others said they just wanted teachers to stick to the curriculum, but stressed they didn’t want it to be interpreted as being against LGBTQ students.
School board member Donna Sivigny introduced a motion to develop a flag policy to address concerns about political symbols. Member Tara Battaglia seconded the motion and all members voted in favour.
School board member Patricia Dorsey said she supports a new policy to fight flags, adding that she wants every student to feel like they belong.
“The underlying theme I hear is respect, and we certainly need to respect every student,” Dorsey said. “These are the kinds of environments we want our students to learn in.”
Student school council member Devanshi Mistry, a senior at Liberty High School, said she does not support a new flag policy. The student member does not have the right to vote within the school board.
“That was one of the questions and concerns I had [about the political neutral policy]”, Mistry said. “If a teacher wanted to display a pride flag in their classroom as a sign of support and acceptance for the students, would they be allowed to do so? And at the time, according to this that I heard from members of the board of directors, it was allowed.
Battaglia told Mistry she thinks allowing pride flags would allow more political symbols to be used in classrooms.
“What it does is open a doorway for other flags to come into our schools that other people won’t like,” Battaglia said. “We’ve banned the Confederate flag before, and that was done a few years ago.”
The School System’s Political Neutrality Policy was drafted and approved in 1990 and revised in 2008. The most recent revisions were proposed in July and approved in January. The revisions require employees to “remain neutral about political issues, parties and candidates during classroom instruction” and avoid discussing such matters unless they are “aligned with the approved curriculum.”
The revised policy also states that “[N]o the employee must: participate in a class discussion with a captive audience on the employee’s views on political issues, parties and candidates; and prevent the non-disruptive expression of student views on political issues, parties, and candidates.
School board president Kenneth Kiler said the board will develop a flag policy that includes input from school board members and the community.
Lockard said the pride flags have been a sign of acceptance and inclusion for more than a decade.
“I know this is very important to our students,” Lockard said. “I don’t want to see us lose inclusiveness or the ability of our students to seek our support.”