We’re experiencing a global pandemic. Teachers, staff, and students who are back to in-person classrooms are trying their best to return to a degree of normal life and education while still being mindful of a potentially deadly virus. We know that countless parents have already protested mask requirements, and some, in fact, have even become physically violent over them. It’s a tense, traumatic period for many young people, and schools should be doing everything possible to make these spaces calm, inclusive, and supportive.
So, what is one school district in Utah focusing on? Banning “political” flags from the classroom, like Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, as well as related stickers and symbols. The only non-political flag, apparently, is the American flag. And we all know what message that sends to already marginalized students.
The policy is reportedly designed to keep classrooms politically neutral by prohibiting Black Lives Matter, rainbow, Make America Great Again, and other similar flags from being displayed in school. Chris Williams, a spokesperson for Davis County Schools, told local outlet 2News that the district is “following state law” in maintaining “politically neutral” classrooms. According to Williams, the policy isn’t new, but principals are reminding schools of the rule as the school year begins.
The outlet says Mark Peterson, spokesperson for the Utah State Board of Education, told them that nothing in their code specifically defines a rainbow flag as a “political statement.” In the email, Peterson reportedly told the outlet that the decision would be up to the district or charter school.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Williams clarified to the outlet that some schools in the district do fly flags that are not the American flag, including flags for other countries and sports teams. According to Williams, the difference is that these flags are “unrelated to politics,” but that the Pride flag isn’t.
“That flag for us is so much more,” said Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family, and education at the Utah Pride Center, in reference to the Pride flag. “It is just telling us we’re included in the schools, we are being seen in the schools, and we belong in these schools.”
The Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a statement on the matter, as reported by the Washington Blade, pointing out that whether or not such a ban is technically permitted in the state, it’s a bad policy and schools have an obligation to support all students and make them feel welcome on campus. “We urge school administrators and teachers to adopt policies that make all students feel safe and included,” they added.
To be abundantly clear: Pride and Black Lives Matter signs are not political. They are not tied to a particular political party, candidate, or ideology. This discussion feels reminiscent of the debates in some cities held around what people can wear while going to vote—some tried to ban Black Lives Matter shirts, for example, arguing that it was promoting candidate campaign materials or voter interference.
There is nothing political about basic rights, respect, and humanity. But of course, many Republicans are happy to frame human identity and inclusion as aligned to a political party, latently suggesting that we can simply choose who are.
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