By Robert Tomlinson
THREE RIVERS — After months of debate, comment, suggestions and flip-flopping, there will not be a policy governing flags and displays at Three Rivers Community Schools going forward.
By a 5-1 vote at Monday’s meeting, the TRCS Board of Education voted to not recommend adoption of a policy that would’ve governed flags and displays in common areas and classrooms, instead opting for a set of administrative guidelines for such things.
Board President Erin Nowak was the lone dissenter in the vote. Treasurer Julia Awe was not in attendance.
The vote is the culmination of nearly two years of off and on debate over the subject since the district issued a controversial directive in November 2021 to have teachers take down Pride flags in classrooms due to a parent complaint. The directive was ultimately reversed at the Dec. 6, 2021 board meeting, with a measure to begin creation of a policy governing flags and displays as part of that vote.
Under the new administrative guidelines that will be put in place following the vote, there would be a number of expectations surrounding displays. Those expectations are that displays:
- Must align to the District’s Mission Statement,
- Create a learning environment that stimulates interest and challenges student knowledge and understanding of the world,
- Encourages respect for the school environment and actively works to ensure it is an enriched place to work and learn,
- Uses display and resources to impact learning, and
- Reflect a high-quality learning environment that has a direct impact on the standards and attitudes of the pupils in our schools.
It would be up to principals to ensure classroom displays support the learning environment and follow the guidelines, and the displays would be allowed to be discussed as long as they don’t “substantially disrupt the educational environment,” according to the guidelines. Teachers are encouraged to consult with the principal and advise them of proposed displays. There would also be an appeal process for teachers or families within three school days of a decision on a classroom display.
The policy proposed for adoption, created by the district’s policy advisors, Neola, would be what they called a “content-neutral” policy with the content of flags, banners, posters, and electronic insignia. It drew criticism from some board members, administration and teachers due in part to an interpretation of its wording that many displays common to a classroom would not be able to be displayed.
In July, Nash said that as of a February superintendent’s conference she attended, Neola has had only four districts out of the 44 across the state that they serve adopt the policy. Centreville Public Schools removed the policy from its policy update back in May, citing issues with the district’s sponsor displays potentially not being allowed.
Prior to Monday’s vote, Secretary Ben Karle said not adopting the policy puts the district in a “good position” moving forward.
“Throughout this process, we beefed up our controversial issues policy, we looked at the process for how people can file a complaint, what that process looks like, how many people are involved,” Karle said. “I think this sets up the district, and most importantly students, marginalized, at-risk populations and beyond, for a good outcome.”
Trustee Linda Baker said the administrative guidelines will be putting trust in the administrators of the different schools, and that while the policy wouldn’t be adopted, it wouldn’t preclude further discussion in the future.
Nowak, the lone dissenter in the vote and someone who has been in favor of a policy since the beginning, said she still preferred to have a policy in place to protect the district in case something like what happened in November 2021 happens again.
“I want to make it clear that a ‘no’ vote tonight doesn’t mean I’m not in favor of flags in the classroom. It doesn’t mean I’m not in favor of teachers putting up personal displays or students being able to express their creativity. I’m not trying to stifle any kindness or inclusion or exclusion; my stance from the beginning of this is I don’t feel there is an adequate policy to protect the Board of Education should items make it through our controversial [issues] policy. It’s the same one we had back in November,” Nowak said.
“We have done nothing as the Board of Education to help us guide that decision. That being said, I’ll be very open and honest, I don’t have a better solution. I don’t have a magical policy that I would vote on. I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t feel like leaving the Board of Education open to us having to be personal judge and jurors and use our own personal beliefs to drive some of the decisions for the district is the position I want to put myself in.”
Nowak also thanked the administrative team for their work in crafting the guidelines over the past several months.
In other business…
- The board approved making the district’s Bass Fishing Club a district-sponsored club.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.