A recent decision by the Kettle Moraine School District to ban pride flags and prohibit the use of pronouns in emails and email signatures has drawn strong opposition.

The district posted about the decision July 27 on its Facebook page. It also posted video from the July 26 School Board meeting, in which the decision was shared as part of Superintendent Stephen Plum’s update to the board.

Plum said district policy prohibits staff from using their positions to promote partisan politics, sectarian religious views, selfish propaganda for personal, monetary or nonmonetary gain.

He said after legal analysis of the policy, the expectation is that teachers and administration will not display political or religious messaging in classrooms or on their person, including Pride flags. The expectation also prohibits pronouns, political language and religious views from staff emails and signatures, and that the standardized email expectation is name, position, title, location, certification, awards and degrees.

Plum said that although the policy’s language hasn’t changed, its interpretation, application and expectations have changed.

Plum also said Black Lives Matter, Thin Blue Line and We Back The Badge signs and flags could be considered political.

But in response to a question from board member Jay Crouse, Plum said a cross necklace would be acceptable if it is worn and is discreet.

“I would say that is a personal item, and I wouldn’t worry about that as opposed to something like a T-shirt that has large letters on it,” Plum said.

“We live in a world where politics are highlighted, and it puts people in uncomfortable positions. 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,” Plum said.

Kettle Moraine School Board President Gary Vose agreed with the decision.

“This isn’t a case where we’re trying to discriminate against any group or groups … but rather just to bring clarity to allow staff to know where the line is drawn on these various things. 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,” Vose said during the meeting.

Decision decried as ‘horrendous’

The reaction on the district’s Facebook post was overwhelming opposition.

One of the commenters, Hayley Rozman, wrote that she was concerned about the mental health of LGBTQIA+ students and called the decision “absolutely horrendous.” Rozman identifies as gender nonbinary (she/they) and queer and is a 2014 Kettle Moraine High School graduate.

“By prohibiting the staff from having any sort of communications in the sense of promoting ‘I’m a safe space,’ ‘I have a rainbow flag’ or anything, doesn’t allow for any safety for students. If they are not safe at home, and they have to go to school eight hours a day, how can they be safe there? There’s nowhere to go. There’s no one to turn to. You don’t know who to talk to and how to be safe,” Rozman said in a July 28 phone interview.

Coral Heffron Neuhold, who graduated from Kettle Moraine High School in 2011, said she was not surprised by the district’s decision. Heffron Neuhold identifies as queer, and said the decision tells students they’re not welcome and supported. She also worries about the district’s staff members.

“It would be horrible to go to work in a place where you’re not allowed to feel comfortable with yourself either. I don’t know if there are any trans members in the current staff, but I don’t know what the School Board would do if a trans staff member isn’t allowed to even show their pronouns in an email signature. That’s awful. There’s so many levels to it,” Heffron Neuhold said in a phone interview.

Trey Korte, a former English teacher from Kettle Moraine High School who identifies as gay, was another of the many commenters on the district’s Facebook post. He questioned why the Pride flag was considered “political” or “religious” and why the district did not consider it a violation of freedom of speech to prohibit teachers from using their personal pronouns.

“The idea that the very presence of a Pride flag or markers that say this is a safe space — for that to be deemed as either political or religious, that seemed to be a real stretch. It seemed a passive-aggressive, legalistic way of silencing LGBTQ teachers and allies and students,” Korte said in a phone interview.

“Teachers not being able to promote political viewpoints – I get it, that’s fair, that’s sensible,” he added. “(But) If you’re going to tell a teacher that you can’t have a Pride flag because it’s ‘political,’ then I feel like the onus ought to be on you to explain why it’s political, and that’s the question they don’t seem to be answering. I feel like there’s avoidance there,” Korte said.

Contact Alec Johnson at (262) 875-9469 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @AlecJohnson12.
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