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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Stonington votes to allow Pride flags back in the classroom

    Koren Jupson waves a Pride flag in response to a speaker at the Stonington Board of Education special meeting Tuesday, October 25, 2022 at the former Pawcatuck Middle School. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Meg Blanchette hands out pride ribbons prior to a Stonington Board of Education special meeting Tuesday, October 25, 2022 at the former Pawcatuck Middle School. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Attendees applaud a speaker during the Stonington Board of Education special meeting Tuesday, October 25, 2022 at the former Pawcatuck Middle School. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Stonington ― The school board on Tuesday accepted the recommendation of Superintendent of Schools Mary Anne Butler that Pride flags be returned to classrooms and voted unanimously to approve a resolution allowing teachers to display them again.

    The vote came as close to 100 residents wearing clothing displaying support for the LGBTQ+ community, waving Pride flags and holding signs filled the meeting room in the former Pawcatuck Middle School. The board scheduled the special meeting in response to public outcry after Butler’s decision that teachers remove the flags two weeks ago.

    After a brief discussion, the board voted to approve a resolution that allows flags to be displayed in classrooms and requires the district to review and update policies to ensure they prohibit LGBTQ discrimination, and to work with the teachers’ union to ensure that those same policies are reflected in future contracts within 30 days.

    Butler previously stated 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.

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

    On Thursday, Butler reversed her controversial decision and released a statement explaining that the district had sought further legal advice and discussed the issue with the teacher’s union and community members.

    At Tuesday’s meeting, Butler pushed back on the characterization of her actions saying she had not ordered the flags to be removed, and “I never delivered a universal directive to remove all Pride flags or any other flags from Stonington classrooms.” Instead, she explained that she asked that a parent’s concern be respectfully addressed while a thorough review of the policies were looked into.

    She reiterated her followup statement on Oct. 20 that Pride flags are in alignment with the district’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and fall outside of district policies governing partisan political displays, information and messaging in schools.

    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.

    At the meeting, some residents argued that the issue was one for families and not schools, that teachers hold power in classrooms, and their display of the flag may make some students uncomfortable.

    Others stated that policies regarding inclusion, diversity, and acceptance of all students and against bullying or discrimination already exist, making the board’s resolution unnecessary.

    The overwhelming majority of speakers, though, supported the decision to allow the flags in classrooms.

    Rachel Fretard, a senior at the high school, read a statement to the board that she said was on behalf of the student body.

    “We are disappointed to see the district’s commitment to equality was so fragile. The rights of students should take precedence over the complaints of parents. It is condescending to assume that children are incapable of making choices about their identity or beliefs. Pride flags are merely a symbol of inclusion—not a political statement. We need tangible work done by the administration in order to rectify the damage done by this action,” she said.

    Before the meeting, the Stonington Education Association, the union that represents teachers here released a statement saying “It is the position of the Stonington Education Association that these flags are NOT partisan political speech and therefore fall outside current Board of Education policies. The SEA views the inclusion of LGBTQ+ flags in a classroom as a symbol of acceptance and inclusion and highlight the importance of supporting ALL students within the community.“

    “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,”it added.

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