The Carroll County School Board has voted to ban the display of Pride flags as part of its policy requiring employees to remain neutral about “political issues, parties, and candidates.”
In a 4-1 vote, the board of the Republican-leaning county, located just west of Baltimore, approved the ban, which will prohibit Pride flags from being hung, displayed, or distributed on school properties in the district.
Board member Patricia Dorsey was the lone vote against the policy, although Student Representative Emilie Tedeschi also expressed opposition to the policy.
Going forward, the school board policy will prohibit all flags on school property except for: the U.S. flag, the Maryland state flag, the Carroll County flag, flags used as part of a temporary unit of study within approved curriculum, and flags or banners recognizing achievements of students or sports teams (which must be pre-approved by the superintendent). The policy will allow flags representing “the many nations of the World” if they are displayed in a common area as part of a multi-national display, for example, but all flags used must be smaller and less prominent than any American flag on display at the school, reports Baltimore-based Fox affiliate WBFF.
However, individual students will still be allowed to express their free speech rights by displaying so-called “political materials” or messages — including Pride flags — on their clothing.
The ban on flag displays was imposed in response to an April donation from a parent, Stephanie Brown, who distributed a small collection of rainbow flags to every public school in the county. The flags were paid for by the Westminster chapter of the nonprofit PFLAG, which stands for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
But the flags sparked outcry from some parents who balked at the idea of Pride flags being displayed in classrooms, saying that displaying such symbols amounts to proselytizing on a sensitive “political” issue or is a form of “sexualizing” children. Some teachers also said they felt pressure to display the flags as a sign of support for LGBTQ students, placing them in an uncomfortable situation where their actions might offend parents.
At an April school board meeting just a few days after Brown donated the flags, the board was deluged with requests from county residents to draft a policy banning all political flags from school grounds, reports The Baltimore Sun.
At Wednesday’s six-hour-long school board meeting on the proposed policy, board members Tara Battaglia, Donna Sivigny and Kenneth Kiler rejected the idea that Pride flags signal a “safe space” or prevent bullying of LGBTQ students — a refrain echoed by many of those opposed to the ban.
Sivigny called the ban a “natural extension” of the school’s political neutrality policy, which requires employees to “remain neutral on political issues, parties, and candidates during classroom instruction” and avoid discussing such issues unless they are “aligned with the approved curriculum.” The policy also prohibits employees from sharing their personal views, and from allowing students to voice their own opinions — even in a “non-disruptive” manner — on “political issues, parties, and candidates” in class.
“The clear intent of this new policy is to ensure a safe and non-hostile work environment for employees and a welcoming environment for all students. The reports of recent harassment and bullying of staff and now students on both sides [are] now extremely concerning to me,” Sivigny said. “[W]hether we like it or not this is a very divisive issue.”
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