Three teachers at a high school in Indiana have been ordered to remove Pride flags from their classrooms on the grounds that the flags make a political statement — and some students and parents are incensed.
Connie Rickert, principal of Pendleton Heights High School, located in the town of Pendleton, ordered the removal Tuesday, according to The Herald Bulletin, an area newspaper. The flags had been displayed by the school’s art, French, and Spanish teachers.
“Teachers are legally obligated to maintain viewpoint neutrality during their official duties to ensure all students can focus on learning and we can maintain educational activities and school operations,” she said. “Our counselors are trained to respond to any student who desires support.”
Bill Hutton, president of the board of trustees for South Madison Community Schools, the district that includes the high school, made a stronger statement in an email to parents, students, and staff, The Herald Bulletin reports.
“The issue with displaying the flag in a school is a double-edged sword,” Hutton wrote. “If an LGBTQ+ flag is allowed to be displayed, then any other group would have the same ability. That could include such flags as supporting white supremacy, which is in direct conflict with LGBTQ+. I hope we can model equality and support through our actions.”
Some students found that comment preposterous. “Why would you compare a racist flag?” student Tai Wills, who is bisexual told the paper. “Those two have nothing to do with each other. … “One is about inclusiveness and the other is about hate and exclusion, and I don’t think that’s the same thing at all.”
Her father, James Wills, and others disputed the idea that Pride flags are political. School administrators “consider it political propaganda, when it’s not,” James Wills told The Indianapolis Star. “It’s literally just human rights, equal rights.”
“I’m trying to see it from both sides,” Missy Darr, who has a stepchild at Pendleton Heights who is part of the LGBTQ+ community, told The Herald Bulletin. “But the problem is the school is seeing this as a political issue. This is my child’s life. They were born this way — frankly, the same way I was. I myself am pansexual.”
“A student’s sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t political,” Chris Paulsen, executive director of the Indiana Youth Group, an LGBTQ+ organization, told the Star. “There are Republicans who are LGBTQ. There are Democrats who are LGBTQ ... people who have no political affiliation.”
The flags sent an important message that LGBTQ+ students were accepted, Tai Wills noted. The teachers in question had displayed the flags the entire past school year, she added, so it isn’t clear why they’ve become an issue now.
Another student, Bryce Axel-Adams, started an online petition to have the flags put back up; as of this article’s publication, it had received more than 3,300 signatures. He planned to present it at the school board meeting Thursday night.