LGBTQ flags at Banks High spark controversy
A crowd of interested people showed up to a Banks School Board meeting Monday night, Jan. 8, after rumors circulated around town that a few Banks High School teachers replaced American flags with rainbow LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning) flags in their classrooms last week.
Those reports are unfounded, Banks School District Superintendent Jeff Leo said in a press release put out by the district earlier Monday.
As community members chatted amongst themselves and on social media — threads on the "Banks Community Bulletin Board" Facebook group page, for example — inaccurate information started to spread. A parent even shared the rumors with a radio station Friday afternoon, Jan. 5.
Some stated that all clothing with flags had been banned from Banks schools. Others stated that American flags were all gone. Neither statement is true.
"No United States flag has been removed from any classroom at Banks High School over the course of the school year," the release read. "In fact, the Banks School District has policies requiring a United States flag in every classroom."
A few teachers have chosen to display LGBTQ flags in their classrooms, but they are not replacing any other flags.
The rainbow flags are "intended as a symbol of support for LGBTQ students," the release stated. "At Banks School District, it is our goal to create an environment where all students feel welcome, safe and supported."
About 35 people showed up to the School Board meeting and two people testified on the subject.
Rachel Valentine argued that teachers were violating Banks School District policy.
"Staff are prohibited [from proselytizing] their personal beliefs on matters such as religion and politics on school property," she said.
Valentine added that teachers can expose students to information about religion and religious beliefs but cannot advocate for one belief or another. Teachers are entitled to their personal religious beliefs and political opinions but discussions about their opinions "will not be carried out during performance of district duties," she read, citing district policy.
Valentine claimed that "what is happening within the confines of the Banks School District violates this policy ... the display and distribution of biased materials by educators is campaigning for a particular viewpoint. By displaying personal items in the classroom, a biased environment is set up from the very beginning. The school is not a platform for personal campaigning."
One man, who identified himself only as "Nanook," said hanging a flag up in the classroom places importance on a specific group of people.
Flags representing heterosexuality and asexuality "aren't hanging next to that flag saying, hey, every sexual orientation is important," he said. "It's one flag, supporting one group, saying, 'Hey, pay attention,' and that's not right."
He went on to say that hanging the flag was both political and religious.
"It's our job to teach our children both sides of issues and certainly to raise our children as we see fit," he said. Teachers shouldn't "sway my child's views on what he should or shouldn't believe or what is right or wrong."
The press release also cited Banks School Board policies and Oregon state law, which both state that no student shall be discriminated against in a school setting.
The district is asking community members to direct concerns about the school environment, curriculum and staff action toward Leo or Banks High Principal Jacob Pence.
The district office phone number is 503-324-8591. The high school phone number is 503-324-2281.
The Banks School Board meets the second Monday of each month at the district office building, 12950 N.W. Main St. in Banks. Work sessions begin at 5:30 p.m. and regular sessions follow at 6 p.m. There is time for audience member testimony at the start of each meeting. Attendees wishing to speak need to fill out a form at the beginning of the meeting and hand it to the board chair.
By Stephanie Haugen
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times
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