Metro Weekly

School removes student’s “Gay is OK” artwork, comparing it to the Nazi flag

Parents, LGBTQ advocates claim principal and vice principal ordered teacher to take down artwork after a parent complained.

A photo of the artwork at the center of the controversy – Photo: Athens Pride, via Facebook.

Administrators at a Georgia elementary school allegedly forced a teacher to take down a student’s artwork, comparing the student’s message of support for LGBTQ rights to hanging up a Nazi flag.

Parents at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School in Athens, Georgia, claim that a teacher had put up an art display featuring students’ work, including one piece of artwork featuring an umbrella against the backdrop of the rainbow Pride flag. But administrators demanded that the drawing be taken down after a parent allegedly complained about its message. 

When the teacher questioned why administrators were so insistent on silencing this particular student’s form of free expression, parents say an administrator compared the drawing to hanging a Nazi flag in the classroom, reports Atlanta-based TV station WXIA-TV, also known as 11Alive.

The local LGBTQ advocacy group Athens Pride criticized the principal and vice principal for removing the art ion a Facebook post.

“It’s been brought to our attention that one local school’s administration at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary did not find the art to be ‘okay.’ A local teacher has had the art hanging in her classroom since October, as part of several different student art pieces. According to the teacher, one parent eventually complained to the principal,” the organization wrote.

“The principal reportedly asked the teacher to move the art to a less offensive place — she stood in solidarity with the student and did not remove the piece. We have been told she was then summoned to the principal and vice principal’s office, where the display of the rainbow and verbiage were reportedly likened to ‘displaying a Nazi symbol’ by the school’s vice principal,” the post continued.

The artwork in question was then allegedly taken down over the teacher’s protests. 

“Our schools should be a safe place for all children to thrive,” Athens Pride added in its post. “What message has now been sent to our students and their teachers about how safe their school is for LGBTQ+ children? Athens Pride and Athens Queer Collective remain committed to fighting back against all forms of oppression here at home.

“We talk often about how inclusive Athens is — we must make sure that inclusiveness is found in the aisles of our businesses and the classrooms in our schools. The truth is, our children are watching and they are listening.”

Jemelleh Coes, a parent and professor at the University of Georgia, told 11Alive that the alleged remarks continue a pattern of problematic behavior on the part of administrators.

“There are ongoing complaints about this current administration has been discriminatory against women, being discriminatory against LGBTQ people, being discriminatory against English language learners or emerging bilinguals, emerging multilingual and Spanish speakers,” Coes said. “So we have seen a pattern of inequity at our school and we have been asking for support for, at this point, years.”

Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School – Photo: Facebook

Gee Campbell, a transmasculine nonbinary parent whose children attend Oglethorpe Elementary, told the news station they found the comment hurtful on a personal level.

“We’ve been part of this school community for four years. My experiences with the teachers in regards to my transitioning have always been positive and respectful.  My daughter is in this classroom and my immediate thought was: ‘What message does this give my daughter about her family?'” Campbell said. 

A teacher at the school who disagreed with the administrators’ demands but wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution issued a statement saying that the majority of staff were “disheartened” by the incident.

“This does not represent why we chose this profession, and it does not represent the feelings, beliefs, values, and attributes our amazing school family has within these four walls,” the teacher’s statement reads.

“We are disheartened that there has been no action taken by CCSD or our building administration to rectify the divide that has been caused. We will continue to seek resolution and promote a community of love, acceptance, and tolerance within our building and community.”

The Clarke County School District released a statement responding to the controversy.

“It has been alleged that a piece of student artwork was compared to Nazi symbolism. We have investigated the situation and are working to address the issues with all parties involved. To be clear, we condemn this comparison and discrimination in all its forms,” the statement reads.

“The Clarke County School District embraces diversity and inclusion for all students and staff. We stand with our LGBTQIA+ community and are dedicated to proving our commitment to diversity and inclusion. To that end, we will continue having sensitive and appropriate conversations with our school communities.”

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