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The board of education in one Maryland county narrowly rejected a proposal that would ban all non-governmental flags, which would include Pride and Black Lives Matter (BLM) flags.
During a contentious meeting on Wednesday, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education voted 4-3 to reject a policy banning the display of all non-governmental flags on school property.
If the proposed policy had passed, Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) would’ve only been able to fly the American, Maryland, Anne Arundel County, and city of Annapolis flags. The policy clarified that AACPS employees, students, volunteers, and visitors could still adorn their clothing or personal belongings with any non-governmental flags.
“Except for flags that promote national, state, and local government pride, the display of flags on Board property and in AACPS shall be limited to those with a bona fide educational purpose,” read the proposed policy. “Nothing in this policy is intended nor may be construed to limit the right of any individual AACPS employee, student, volunteer, or visitor to adorn their person or personal belongings with such items as buttons, pins, clothing designs, or jewelry that may incorporate a flag or flag-like design[.]”
Board members Joanna Bache Tobin, Robert Silkworth, Dana Schallheim, and Eric Lin voted against the policy. Members Michelle Corkadel, Melissa Ellis, and Corine Frank voted for it. Board member Gloria Dent abstained from voting.
Although this policy would have effectively restricted other flags in addition to the Pride and BLM flags, opponents of the policy mainly focused on the fact that the Pride and BLM flags would be prohibited.
About 2,000 public comments were submitted on the proposed policy; over 80 were presented on the agenda or in person during Wednesday’s meeting.
According to proponents of the policy, the ban would neutralize classrooms of contentious ideologies, honor the beliefs of religious families, and prevent grooming or undesired ideological indoctrination. Multiple proponents insisted further that the American flag was the only unifying flag, while others were divisive.
Opponents of the policy claimed that the display of the Pride flag would prevent suicides in students. They also claimed that the flags and the ideologies behind them weren’t correlated in any way with declining student performance. Opponents further denied that LGBT ideologies are ideologies.
Public comments from the meeting is available to watch here:
Board member Corkadel said that while she didn’t believe educators intended to force students to choose between their faith and education by displaying Pride or BLM flags, that was what was occurring. Corkadel said that students assigned to a class in which a teacher displayed an ideologically-charged flag, such as the Pride or BLM flags, were forced to exist in an environment that contradicted their beliefs.
“At the end of the day, what we are currently facing are students who feel they have to choose between their religious belief and their public education,” said Corkadel. “I have to take the people of faith — who are a protected class under our Constitution — that when they say they are not being valued as a result of trying to value another, I think we need to find a better way.”
Superintendent Mark Bedell said that he objected to the policy because classrooms were places to cultivate relationships of belonging between teachers and students.
“I believe there is a huge difference to flags that fly on a flagpole outside a school building, and those on display inside,” said Bedell. “No one wins when we enact one inequity to solve another perceived inequity.”
Board member Schallheim claimed that the policy was designed to target black, brown, and LGBT-identifying individuals. She said that while she recognized the religious groups’ desire to honor their beliefs, she didn’t believe in policies enabling their beliefs at the expense of others.
“The utterance of the phrase ‘diversity of thought’ makes the horrendous assumption that these groups are a monolith,” said Schallheim.
Dent, a veteran, said that if the presence of ideological flags like the Pride and BLM flags caused students to feel welcomed, and even reconsider suicide, then they should be allowed to be displayed. However, Dent expressed dismay with the arguments of the opposition: that the presence of flags other than the American flag were their symbol of hope. This conflict prompted Dent to abstain her vote.
“The American flag should not be on display to where it has to be the product that says that if you have the American flag you somehow can’t have or represent the other cultures that are being represented,” said Dent. “These flags are symbols of hope for everyone.”
Lin, the high school student member on the board, said that Pride and BLM flags weren’t in many classrooms. He expressed opposition to the fact that the policy would likely restrict college and military pennants. Lin then argued that the Pride flag didn’t represent a political or social issue, and that flags wouldn’t impart ideologies onto students.
“Schools are not teaching kids an ideology, but rather that people of all natures exist and it is important to respect all,” said Lin.
Silkworth said that while he respected the American flag, he couldn’t support the policy because it went against his understanding of the nation’s founding values of unity, tolerance, acceptance, and mutual respect.
“The American flag will continue and will always fly high outside of our schools,” said Silkworth. “But what matters is not what flag flies on the wall of an American class. What matters is what flies in our hearts.”
Frank countered the idea that the Pride and BLM flags weren’t steeped in political foundations, briefly citing their origins with influential political figures and movements. She also took issue with Schallheim’s promise that no book bans would occur on her “watch,” saying that Schallheim was laying unauthorized claim to full authority of the board.
Similarly, Ellis disputed the claims from opposition that the policy was a solution in search of a problem. She said that many parents have come to her expressing fear of speaking out against LGBT and BLM ideologies. Ellis acknowledged the existence of a culture war, one she said could be allayed in their community by neutralizing classroom flags.
“Bullying in the name of kindness is still bullying,” said Ellis.
In her concluding remarks before the vote, Tobin, in her capacity as board president, apologized for the policy supporters who said that LGBT and BLM were ideologies. She argued that the policy would prevent students from fulfilling what Founding Father Benjamin Franklin said was necessary to keep a republic: debating differences. Tobin claimed that Pride and BLM flags were among the necessary tools for students to develop into citizens.
Some members of the public in attendance erupted into cheers when the policy failed.