LI School District’s Classroom Pride Flag Ban Sparks Outrage

BOHEMIA, NY – LGBTQ rights advocates and a teacher are suing the Connetquot Central School District after a teacher was ordered to remove Pride flags from his classroom. The action comes weeks after the district came under fire for banning a book about LGBTQ issues.

Reza Kolahifar, the district’s assistant superintendent for administration and personnel, sent a letter to staff on Tuesday, citing a district policy that school employees should not engage in political activities on the grounds of school.

“This includes, but is not limited to, discussions centered around personal beliefs and flags indicating political views,” Kolahifar wrote in the post obtained by Patch. “The only flags that should be hung in a classroom or office are the American flag and the New York State flag.”

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Superintendent Lynda G. Adams also wrote a letter to the Connetquot community on Thursday, saying the teacher hung both a rainbow flag and a Progress Pride flag in her classroom.

Designed in 2018 by graphic designer Daniel Quasar, a Progress Pride flag has an additional five-color chevron to the classic rainbow flag. It includes black and brown stripes to represent marginalized LGBTQ+ communities of color, as well as the colors pink, light blue, and white, which are used on the Transgender Pride flag.

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The Progress Pride flag was “at least twice as big” as the American flag on display, Adams said, and several students said they felt “uncomfortable” because of it.

“The teacher of this class was asked to remove the Progress flag, but could continue to display the other flag in the room, which was the traditional Pride flag,” Adams said in an email obtained by Patch.

When the teacher refused, the district enacted Policy 1310 “which states that school employees shall not engage in political activity” on school property.

“All of our children deserve a school where they are safe, comfortable and respected, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or political affiliation,” Adams said. “By adhering to the letter of the policy, we can neutralize the environment, hoping the space feels safe and comfortable for all of our students.”

In a statement to Patch, Adams said the district is “aware of the mixed outlook” surrounding the display of the Progress Pride flag displayed in a classroom.

“Schools must remain neutral and safe learning spaces for all students and staff and while we respect individual personal beliefs, the classroom is not the appropriate setting for expressing these opinions, especially if they disrupt educational environment,” she said in the statement. “Any material or conversation that violates this mission is prohibited in our schools.”

Dr. David Kilmnick, president and founder of the LGBT network, said in a letter that the group and teacher had sent a cease and desist to the entire school board and administration, “demanding that they immediately revoke their discriminatory policy and disavow their discriminatory act”. .”

The teacher, who works with the LGBT Network, told Kilmnick that she had hung a rainbow flag and a Progress Pride flag in her classroom for many years and refused to take it down.

His classroom also happens to be the meeting place for the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club, the LGBT network has confirmed.

Kilmnick wrote that the post is a violation of First and 14th Amendment rights, as well as anti-discrimination laws.

“Quite simply, this bigotry is the result of planned efforts by far-right groups to politicize our schools and target LGBT people,” he said.

The district has threatened teachers with disciplinary action, including losing their jobs, if they choose to keep the symbol of pride and safety displayed, Kilmnick said.

He added that although Kolahifar insists that educators do not engage in political activities, the school parking lot currently has spaces painted in the Blue Lives Matter flag and “MAGA” – an acronym for former President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” – painted on the poles.

Tony Felicio, Jr., president of the Connetquot Teachers Association, told Patch that the district’s actions were wrong.

“The goal of the association is to protect its teachers and ALL students,” Felicio said. “This decision hurts the children. Period.”

Patch has contacted the school board for comment.

The LGBT network plans to rally outside the district office on Tuesday, which is also National Coming Out Day.

“We warn every school and every library district – don’t mess with our kids and families and don’t mess with our teachers,” Kilmnick said. “There will be serious and costly consequences to contend with, including federal and state litigation.”

The rally will take place at 6:00 p.m. 780 Ocean Avenue in Bohemia, before a school board meeting set for 7:30 p.m.

The Connetquot Teachers Association will also hold a simultaneous rally for a fair and just contract, Felicio said.

The neighborhood recently came under fire last month, when it was put on PEN America’s banned books list.

“Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe, is in circulation in the district, but requires parental permission to borrow. According to its website, PEN America defines the requirement for a clearance slip as a ban.

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