Amid global pandemic, Utah school district quietly prioritizes banning Pride flags from classrooms

We’re experiencing a global pandemic. Teachers, staff, and students who are back to in-person classrooms are trying their best to return to a degree of normal life and education while still being mindful of a potentially deadly virus. We know that countless parents have already protested mask requirements, and some, in fact, have even become physically violent over them. It’s a tense, traumatic period for many young people, and schools should be doing everything possible to make these spaces calm, inclusive, and supportive.

So, what is one school district in Utah focusing on? Banning “political” flags from the classroom, like Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, as well as related stickers and symbols. The only non-political flag, apparently, is the American flag. And we all know what message that sends to already marginalized students.

The policy is reportedly designed to keep classrooms politically neutral by prohibiting Black Lives Matter, rainbow, Make America Great Again, and other similar flags from being displayed in school. Chris Williams, a spokesperson for Davis County Schools, told local outlet 2News that the district is “following state law” in maintaining “politically neutral” classrooms. According to Williams, the policy isn’t new, but principals are reminding schools of the rule as the school year begins. 

The outlet says Mark Peterson, spokesperson for the Utah State Board of Education, told them that nothing in their code specifically defines a rainbow flag as a “political statement.” In the email, Peterson reportedly told the outlet that the decision would be up to the district or charter school. 

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Williams clarified to the outlet that some schools in the district do fly flags that are not the American flag, including flags for other countries and sports teams. According to Williams, the difference is that these flags are “unrelated to politics,” but that the Pride flag isn’t. 

“That flag for us is so much more,” said Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family, and education at the Utah Pride Center, in reference to the Pride flag. “It is just telling us we’re included in the schools, we are being seen in the schools, and we belong in these schools.”

The Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a statement on the matter, as reported by the Washington Blade, pointing out that whether or not such a ban is technically permitted in the state, it’s a bad policy and schools have an obligation to support all students and make them feel welcome on campus. “We urge school administrators and teachers to adopt policies that make all students feel safe and included,” they added. 

To be abundantly clear: Pride and Black Lives Matter signs are not political. They are not tied to a particular political party, candidate, or ideology. This discussion feels reminiscent of the debates in some cities held around what people can wear while going to vote—some tried to ban Black Lives Matter shirts, for example, arguing that it was promoting candidate campaign materials or voter interference. 

There is nothing political about basic rights, respect, and humanity. But of course, many Republicans are happy to frame human identity and inclusion as aligned to a political party, latently suggesting that we can simply choose who are. 

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Caribbean Matters: So much more than a place hurricanes pass over on the way to Florida or Louisiana

When I see the Caribbean mentioned in U.S. headlines, it is most often brought up in passing in weather forecasts about storms forming in the Atlantic Ocean and heading towards the mainland U.S., or when there is a natural disaster, like the recent earthquake in Haiti, or last spring’s eruption of the La Soufriere volcano on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Coverage is rarely in-depth and often fleeting as few major news organizations have expert journalists assigned to that beat; further, the stories those reporters file are rarely given prominence.

The one exception to that dearth of coverage is Cuba, given the long history of adversarial relationships between us, fueled by Republican politicians who use Cuba as a means to garner support and votes from the Cuban American exile community.

The nations and territories that make up the area dubbed “the Caribbean” are our nearest neighbors other than Canada and Mexico, and yet they may as well be on the other side of the globe for all we hear and learn about them on a regular basis, beyond their appeal as travel destinations for American tourists.

Reports on weather events all too frequently misname or mispronounce where storms are taking place.

Yeah and Barbuda is not Barbados

— Denise Oliver-Velez 💛 (@Deoliver47) September 21, 2017

And six months later:

Dear people: 1.) Guyana is not Ghana 2.) Barbados, Barbuda & Bermuda are three separate islands. 3.) Trinidad and Tobago is one country. 4.) Costa Rica is not a resort in Spain 5.) Grenada is not Granada. 6.) Tobago is pronounced Tuh-bay-go Thank you.

— Ri Fingal (@RiFingal) March 23, 2018

Recently, I posted this thread to Twitter. I decided that it was worth exploring this issue here at Daily Kos.

The Caribbean is not just a place hurricanes pass over on the way to the US mainland. In years of teaching I never had a non-Caribbean student who could name all or most of these island nations. Most of my college students could only identify 2 or 3. pic.twitter.com/9UMKYXY5Lk

— Denise Oliver-Velez 💛 (@Deoliver47) September 6, 2021

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since the August 14th earthquake in Haiti. Less than a month has passed, & the msm coverage is abysmal. However we shouldn’t only see disaster stories, or ads focused on tourism. Curious…what was the last book you read by a Caribbean author?

— Denise Oliver-Velez 💛 (@Deoliver47) September 6, 2021

Black Kos is currently the only Daily Kos Community group that regularly features stories that aren’t about disasters from the region. Yet Democrats with ties to the Caribbean aren’t hard to find.

Vice President Kamala Harris’ father is Jamaican, while Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s parents, like the parents of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are from Puerto Rico. Another New York House member, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, was born in the Dominican Republic, while Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s parents immigrated here from Jamaica. Non-voting U.S. Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett’s parents are from St. Croix—yet we frequently overlook the contributions of Caribbean Americans to our politics.

This short 2017 video from YouTuber Lyndsay Elizabeth lists 60 influential Caribbean Americans who made an impact on our history and culture … a list that originally had 20 more. From Marcus Garvey to Esther Rolle, Alexander Hamilton to Audre Lorde, the contributions of these five dozen people are undeniable and just the start.

Caribbean Matters is a new series I’ll be writing here. I’m hoping that those of you who have an interest in the Caribbean will take the poll below, and join the effort to cover our Caribbean neighbors here at Daily Kos.

Here’s one first step: While there are several excellent writers here covering weather and natural events that have occurred in the Caribbean, many of those stories do not have the #Caribbean tag, which makes them harder to find. If you see a post that you feel relates to the Caribbean I hope you will add that tag, and if you happen to have some spare time, help update past stories that aren’t tagged yet.

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