School board votes for inexcusable ban on ‘political’ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags

A row of board members sit to discuss the board agenda.

A US school board has voted to remove so-called “political” Pride and Black Lives Matter flags from public school classrooms.

The Kettle Moraine School Board in Wisconsin voted that teachers are not permitted to display flags that have “political messaging” on Tuesday (16 August).

It also voted that teachers would not be allowed to disclose their pronouns in email signatures after it alleged that staff and students had become “concerned.”

Superintendent Stephen Plum outlined the district’s new interpretation of a policy prohibiting the promotion of “partisan politics, religious views, and propaganda” for monetary or non-monetary gain.

“We live in a world where politics are highlighted and it puts people in uncomfortable positions,” Plum, said. “I feel the staff can fully support students. I feel that every staff member, custodian, and teacher ought to know that it’s really in the best interest of the students to look out for them and to have strong, healthy relationships that develop therefrom.”

In response to a question from the board, Plum said that items like cross necklaces would be acceptable if discreet, adding: “I would say that is a personal item,” he said. “I wouldn’t worry about that as opposed to something like a T-shirt that has large letters on it.”

Of the board members to vote for the newly acknowledged interpretation of the policy, only one voted against the ban. Member Jim Romanowski reportedly said he changed his mind about the policy after hearing from students and staff.

Two women stand in front of a packed crowd discussing notes they have written on paper.

Members of the public comment on the Kettle Moraine School Board decision to effectively ban Pride and BLM flags. (Kettle Moraine School Board/YouTube screengrab)

The backlash from the packed attendees during the public comment period – which was capped at an hour despite calls to extend it – was abundant after the decision. an American Civil Liberties Union attorney Christin Donahoe said: “If you have a policy that says ‘nothing political,’ does that mean you can’t have a sign up that says, ‘Support our Troops,’ or ‘Believe Women’ or ‘Save the Planet?’ By some people’s definitions, all of those things are political.

“It really looks like target attacks at specific viewpoints, like LGBT communities, or welcome and safe spaces to students of colour,” Donahoe continued.

Since the decision, an online petition was created by two students attending high schools affected by the board who said: “We are outraged at this new policy. We are both part of the LGBTQIA+ community. When walking into a classroom where we see a Pride flag hanging up, we have a sense of comfort at acceptance.”

The petition, which adds that the removal of pronouns from email signatures is unjust because “everyone has a pronoun” and that it isn’t a “crime for our teachers to say what they would like to be referred by” has reached more than 14,000 signatures at the time of reporting.

Gay teacher Trey Korte, who taught at Kettle Moraine High School from 2009 to 2019, said he was angry at the unfairness of the policy, saying: “When you remove something that had been there a while that represented a marginalised group, when you take that away, it does make people feel unwelcome.”

Despite the backlash, Kettle Moraine School Board president Gary Vose backed the decision, saying that it wasn’t “a case where we’re trying to discriminate against any group” but that clarity was needed in policy decisions.

“It’s not a popularity contest. Regardless what we do here, we’re going to have some that are going to love it, some that are going to hate it. Regardless of that, I think it’s the right thing to do. I’m fully behind it.”