Logan schools working to implement new policy over pride flags

Teachers can keep personal items, such as flags, in view if they “do not disturb the learning process.”

(Kate Smith | The Statesman) A recently approved policy in the Logan City School District establishes rules for whether and how teachers can display personal items — including Pride flags — in their classrooms.

This story is jointly published by nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune, in collaboration with Utah State University’s The Statesman, to elevate diverse perspectives in local media through student journalism.

The Logan City School District has updated its policy on symbols in classrooms, after months of debate over the presence of rainbow pride flags in classrooms.

The policy went into effect March 3, after a 3-2 school board vote last December to revise the district’s Standards for Media Use policy to support Utah state code, which says any classroom materials “do not display materials that endorse, promote, or disparage a particular political, personal, religious, denominational, sectarian, agnostic, or atheist belief or viewpoint.”

Under the new district policy, a school’s principal does not have to remove personal items — including pride flags — from a teacher’s desk as long as they “do not disturb the learning process.”

Before the district enforces any changes, Superintendent Frank Schofield and the district’s five other board members plan to offer training to administrators on how to implement the policy in unique situations. The administrators will then train their own staff, according to Shana Longhurst, the district’s director of communications and public relations.

“We know there are going to be a lot of novel situations that are going to come up, just because of the complexity of the issue,” Schofield said.

Frank Stewart, the board’s vice president, said the policy and training will help teachers better know the answers and processes for student and parent concerns.

“We just want every teacher to have and feel like they have the backing of our administration in every circumstance, so that they have answers when a parent comes to address on specifically about their student or their child — that there’s a good process in place to make sure that we consider all the options on ways that we can best help them,” Stewart said.

Board member Larry Williams agreed, saying “we want to minimize putting the teacher on the spot. … And that’s why there’s going to be a building administrator principal involved in determining what’s appropriate.”

Schofield said the board has delayed putting their training together, so they could take any changes by the Legislature into account, specifically relating to neutrality in classrooms.

The policy states: “Materials that do not convey the District’s educational message, or are determined by the building principal to be in violation of the guidance in this policy, may be removed by the school principal. An educator or other employee who uses instructional time or space to convey a political, religious, or personal message after being directed not to may be subject to disciplinary action.”

However, Longhurst explained, the policy “does not require anyone to remove anything from their classroom, unless it violates the policy. Nothing needs to be removed at this point and will not need to be based on the implementation of this policy.”

During a Sept. 13 school board meeting, Andrea Sinfield, a Hillcrest Elementary School parent, kick-started the conversation about classroom symbols when she expressed concern about a pride flag sticker with the words “Safe Space” on the front door of a few kindergarten classroom doors in her daughter’s elementary school.

Sinfield said it feels like nothing has changed over pride flags in classrooms.

“It’s a little disheartening to me, because of all the work that [we] have done to try to create a neutral classroom, because that’s what it is,” Sinfield said.

Jay Bates Domenech, a senior at Logan High School and president of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), agreed that there has been little change since the policy went into effect.

“The only change I’ve really seen is actually an influx of teachers putting up pride flags,” Domenech said.

However, Domenech did say he was concerned that, after the administrator training, their principal may be more strict with implementing the policy than other schools in the district.

The implementation, Domenech said, “is just going to make it a more hostile environment. We already don’t have a super-amazing, supportive school — and that goes for a lot of things, like not only queerness but also, like, people of color and undocumented people, etc. But, like, I just think it’s going to increase the kind of otherness of queer students.”

Sinfield suggested that the Logan City School District could implement a policy similar to the Cache County School District.

She referenced a picture of a flier outside a Green Canyon high school classroom. The flier pictured several students — including a student in a wheelchair, students of color, and another wearing a rainbow shirt — with the words, “Safe, Welcome, Invited. Our school is a safe place where everyone belongs. Come, learn with us.”

Schofield said that there hasn’t been a discussion with the board yet on creating a similar district-wide symbol for inclusion.

“As we have the conversation of ways to communicate inclusion for all students, one of our board’s commitments is to do that in a way that doesn’t inadvertently send a message of exclusion for groups that identify with a particular symbol,” Schofield said. “We haven’t finalized anything, because our board is extremely aware these images have strong emotional impacts on students and their families.”

Stewart said the board and district’s decisions centered on trying to help everyone feel included.

“It really is our hope that we can continue to do everything we can to help students feel accepted in every capacity,” Stewart said.

Kris Carpenter wrote this story as a journalism student at Utah State University. It is published as part of a new collaborative including nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune.