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    Tuesday, February 27, 2024

    Stonington teachers’ union responds to Pride flag controversy

    Stonington ―The Stonington teachers’ union responded Wednesday to the controversial decision by Superintendent Mary Anne Butler to remove Pride flags from classrooms in town, saying the flags are “a symbol of acceptance and inclusion and highlight the importance of supporting all students within the community.”

    The statement released by Stonington Education President Michael Freeman stressed the union’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion and creating safe, caring and welcoming environments for students.

    “As educators, we are committed to ensuring equity, diversity, and inclusion. We strive to make classrooms safe and welcoming learning environments for all of our students. Many of the small pride flags displayed in our classrooms were given to teachers by our LGBTQ+ student members of the Alliance for Acceptance and are a symbol of acceptance and inclusion and highlight the importance of supporting all students within the community.”

    Freeman continued that “We must all support efforts to achieve inclusion in our schools. SEA and its members have a deep and long-standing commitment to our students and social rights, and we are dedicated to doing all we can to ensure that our schools are safe, caring environments that help all students reach their full potential.”

    He concluded by saying “We look forward to the Stonington Board of Education making a decision on this issue and clarifying current standards/policies to ensure that students of every race, religion, and sexual orientation are welcomed, respected, and appreciated in our schools.”

    Butler has that the issue arose when a parent expressed a concern about a Pride flag in a classroom and asserted it was a violation of the district’s policy on political materials in classrooms.

    That policy bans the display or distribution of political materials during school hours, unless they are used for educational purposes, and further requires that materials be presented in an unbiased, objective manner which is appropriate to the age of the students. The rainbow-colored flag which symbolizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) pride and social movements.

    Stonington Board of Education Chairman Farouk Rajab has said Butler made the decision based on guidance she received from board policies and other legal advice.

    Some parents and residents have now called on the school board to hold a special meeting to discuss the issue. A private meeting was slated to be held Wednesday evening between the teacher’s union and three members of the Board of Education.

    A statement sent to families by Rajab and Butler on Wednesday provided an update on the controversy.

    “At the request of the Stonington Education Association, this evening Board members and Administration will be meeting with representatives of the SEA to discuss the SEA concerns from a collective bargaining perspective. As with other negotiation matters, this will be a private meeting,” the statement read.

    The statement made no mention of the Pride flags but referred to “public interest over the rules governing displays by teachers in their classrooms.”

    It concluded by stating that, in recognition of the public interest, “the Board will be convening a special meeting of the Board of Education to review current Board policy and to decide whether and how the Board should provide additional guidance to teachers on what they may and may not display in their classrooms. This discussion will be held at a public meeting, and interested members of the public are welcome to attend.”

    No date for the special meeting was specified.

    Rajab, who is also the Democratic candidate for the 18th District Senate seat, released a statement that he stressed was separate and apart from his position as school board chairman.

    He expressed pride in the teachers, administration and staff and their commitment to providing a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for students. He further noted that current policies which have informed the controversy were established to safeguard the schools.

    “If we wish to alter or change those policies, then we must comply with specific processes that can lead us thoughtfully in that direction,” he said.

    “The simplification of a complicated issue involving the display of the Pride flag in our classroom to stir up the community for political gains is disheartening to me. We are at a point where the opinions of the minority would not allow for this symbol of inclusion to be shared in the classroom,” he wrote.

    “Sometimes we have to stand up for what is right, and standing up for our LGBTQ+ community is always the right thing. I stand with them as an ally and as a leader who will be there to listen to their concerns, in order to create more inclusive policies in the future,” the statement read.

    He concluded by saying, “I remain steadfast in my support to the LGBTQ+ community at home and my place of work. We need to do better as a community by coming together to find a permanent solution to the policy in question.”

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