WALES, Wis. – A Wisconsin school board voted in favor of a policy that prohibits teachers and staff from displaying gay pride flags and other items that district officials consider political in nature.
The Kettle Moraine School Board voted Tuesday to keep a code of conduct in place that the superintendent recently interpreted as forbidding district employees from displaying political or religious messages, including pride flags, and Black Lives Matter and We Back the Badge signs. Staff also may not say in emails what their pronouns are.
Superintendent Stephen Plum recently told the board that the district's interpretation of a policy that prohibits staffers from using their positions to promote partisan politics, religious views and propaganda for personal, monetary or nonmonetary gain changed following a legal analysis.
Jim Romanowski was the only board member to vote against the ban, saying he changed his mind about the policy after hearing from students and staff.
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'It really looks like targeted attacks'
Most of those who spoke at Tuesday's packed board meeting opposed the policy. The public comment period was capped at an hour, despite a call from the crowd to extend it.
"If you have a policy that says 'nothing political,' does that mean you can't have a sign up that says, 'Support our Troops,' or 'Believe Women' or 'Save the Planet?' By some people's definitions, all of those things are political," said Christine Donahoe, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin.
Donahoe said she's looking closely at the policy and a similar one approved last fall by the school district in nearby Waukesha.
"It really looks like targeted attacks at specific viewpoints, like LGBT communities, or welcome and safe spaces to students of color," said Donahoe.
More than 13,000 people have signed an online petition opposing the Kettle Moraine policy that was launched by two local high school students, Bethany Provan and Brit Farrar.
"Having a rainbow flag in your room isn't pushing your beliefs on someone," Provan told WITI-TV. "It's just saying, 'Hey, you're welcome here, and we support you.'"
'A real stretch'
On July 27, the district posted on its Facebook page that it had prohibited the use of pronouns in emails and email signatures, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network, reported.
At the time, Plum, the superintendent, said district policy prohibits staff from using their positions to promote partisan politics, sectarian religious views, selfish propaganda for personal, monetary or nonmonetary gain. But in response to a question from a board member, 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.
Community members chimed in on the July 27 Facebook post, citing concerns about the mental health of LGBTQ students.
"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," Trey Korte, a former English teacher from Kettle Moraine High School who identifies as gay, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"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.
Contributing: Associated Press; Alec Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Wisconsin school board Kettle Moraine bans pride flags, email pronouns