Metro Weekly

Indiana school district may ban “controversial” Pride flags after parent complains

The parent told Bluffton-Harrison school district that displaying Pride flags could be a "trigger" for bad behavior

LGBTQ, Pride Flag, ban, indiana, controversial, parent
Photo by Stavrialena Gontzou on Unsplash

An Indiana school district is investigating whether to ban Pride flags after a parent objected to “controversial material” being displayed in classrooms.

The parent lodged a complaint with the school board after seeing a Pride flag hanging in science teacher Bev Balash’s eighth-grade classroom at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School, WANE reports.

Bluffton-Harrison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Dr. Brad Yates told parents in a letter that the school board had been made aware of a “parental concern regarding controversial material displayed in a classroom in our district.”

The parent seemed to believe that displaying a Pride flag could lead to students acting out, calling it a “trigger for student disciplinary issues,” Yates said.

Balash told WANE that the parent was blaming the Pride flag for “why her child was being bullied.”

“She kept squawking and the school board stuck behind me, the superintendent was behind me and did not tell me to take it down,” Balash said. “Then with enough media attention and Facebook attention she’s pushed us into this corner.”

Balash has displayed the flag for years without issue, telling WANE it was specifically to let students know that her classroom is a safe space for them.

In his letter, Yates told parents that the school board had sought legal counsel to “outline parameters for controversial topics displayed in our classrooms throughout our district.”

Any such policy would “clearly identify topics considered controversial and outline the buildings and/or grade levels in which controversial topics would not be permitted.”

Should Pride flags be deemed “controversial,” they could be banned from all classrooms, or restricted to higher grades.

Yates told parents that he had spoken to the parent who raised the initial objection to inform them of the school board’s actions, but said that “right now it would be permissible for that [flag] to be displayed in the classroom.”

After the initial news broke, Fort Wayne Pride slammed the decision to investigate Pride flags in classrooms.

“Many who are opposed [to the flag] are saying this is promoting sex and politics in the classroom and that it is divisive,” the group wrote on Facebook. “We believe they are wrong and have misconstrued the meaning of the LGBTQ Pride flag. The LGBTQ Pride flag is a symbol of inclusion that is welcoming to all.”

Fort Wayne Pride said that the Pride flag gave LGBTQ students and those from LGBTQ families a sign that they “have entered a safe space.”

“Students who are not LGBTQ also know they have entered a space where bullying will not be tolerated,” the group continued. “The rainbow flag is a welcoming symbol of love to students who may not always feel that at school, in the community, or even in their own home.”

Fort Wayne Pride said that schools have “a responsibility to protect all students from harm and bullying.”

“If a teacher is not even able to hang a flag which represents that protection, what does that say to the LGBTQ students in that community?” they continued. “We urge the Bluffton Harrison School Board and any other school district facing the same choice to allow teachers to display the rainbow flag. This is not about politics, this is about ensuring all students feel safe and welcome.”

At a school board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 24, almost 100 people spoke about the district’s proposed policy on “controversial material.”

Outside the meeting, a peaceful protest was held to object to the policy. Inside, community members spoke out both for and against banning Pride flags, with many highlighting bullying of LGBTQ students.

One former student of Bluffton Harrison told the school board that she was bullied after coming out in her junior year, with it becoming so severe that she was forced to drop out of school.

“I wish I had a teacher with I flag I could of gone to,” the student said.

One parent said that she needed to know her child had a safe place to go in school and that the school board would feel “her wrath” if it removed that, WANE’s Taylor Williams reported from inside the meeting.

After two-and-a-half hours, the school board ultimately voted to pass the first draft of its “Resolution Regarding Respect and Inclusion of All Students” policy.

The policy states that the school district doesn’t want to “indoctrinate students on topics outside the school curricula, not does it with to marginalize those with views on topics with which others in the community disagree.”

Teachers will be responsible for “creating a learning environment in which all students and staff are respected without promoting or advocating a particular point of view,” it states.

The board will next vote on the language of the policy on Sept. 13.

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