David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the LGBT Network, said...

David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the LGBT Network, said the teacher at Connetquot High School was asked last month to take down the flags displayed in her classroom, which is also where the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club meets. Credit: Reece T. Williams

The Connetquot school district told its staff in a memo that only the American and New York State flags can be hung in classrooms after, LGBTQ advocates said, a high school teacher refused to take down Pride flags in her classroom.

The directive came in an email sent by Reza Kolahifar, the district’s assistant superintendent for administration and personnel, citing a district policy that said school employees should not engage in political activities on school premises. Tony Felicio Jr., president of the Connetquot Teachers Association, confirmed that Kolahifar's email was sent Tuesday. 

“It is important to note that individuals should not engage in any active political practices that would exclude any student or make any individual feel uncomfortable,” Kolahifar wrote. “This includes, but is not limited to, discussions centered around personal beliefs and flags denoting political views.”

He noted that “the only flags that should be hung in a classroom or office are the American Flag and the NYS Flag.”

While law experts say school districts can prohibit political displays in classrooms, advocates say Pride flags are not political. 

“It’s our identity,” said David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the LGBT Network. “Being gay is not a political activity. It’s not an activity. It’s our lives. It’s who we are. … Love is not the problem."           

Kilmnick said school officials last month asked the teacher at Connetquot High School to take down the flags she had on display in her classroom, which is also where the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club meets. The teacher has had the flags, a Rainbow flag and a Progress Pride flag, on the wall for years and refused to take them down, he said. 

The Progress Pride flag has more colors — including black and brown stripes — than the traditional Rainbow flag. It is a design meant to be more inclusive, advocates said.

Felicio deferred questions to Kilmnick. The teacher declined an interview request through Kilmnick, who declined to identify her by name. 

Kilmnick said the teacher received a letter from high school Principal Michael Moran on Thursday saying she could face disciplinary action for failing to comply with the directive sent earlier this week. Kilmnick said the teacher was given until Friday to remove the flags. A message left at the principal's office wasn't immediately returned.

Kilmnick said his organization is planning a protest at 6 p.m. Tuesday outside the district office in Bohemia, before a school board meeting set for 7:30 p.m., to demand a reversal of the district’s flag display policy. Tuesday is also the National Coming Out Day.

In a statement emailed through a spokeswoman, Connetquot schools Superintendent Lynda G. Adams wrote Wednesday that the district is "aware of the mixed perspectives surrounding the display of the Progress Pride flag" in a classroom. 

“Schools must remain neutral and safe learning spaces for all students and staff and while we respect individual personal beliefs, the classroom is not the appropriate setting to express these views, especially if they create a disruption to the educational environment,” Adams wrote. “Any materials or conversations that violate this mission are prohibited within our schools.”

In an email sent to the school community Thursday, Adams wrote students in a classroom reported “feeling uncomfortable” about the Progress Pride flag, which the superintendent said was at least twice the size of the American flag on display.

Adams said the teacher was asked to remove that flag but keep the traditional Rainbow flag on the wall, a “compromise” she said the teacher rejected, as was an offer from the district of a sign that says “This is a safe space to be who you are.”

District officials clarified Thursday that curriculum-based flags will be allowed.                     

Jaclyn Napolitano-Furno, the school board president, did not respond to a request for comment.

David Bloomfield, education law professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said state law requires the display of the American flag on school grounds but only encourages its display in classrooms.

State law doesn’t say anything about the other flags, meaning a school board, which sets local school policies, can prohibit the display of other materials as long as it’s consistent and apolitical, he said.

“The idea of what is political is subjective and thus subject to attacks,” Bloomfield said. “If you put up a Ukrainian flag, are you putting it up as a political gesture or an educational matter?”

The Connetquot school district told its staff in a memo that only the American and New York State flags can be hung in classrooms after, LGBTQ advocates said, a high school teacher refused to take down Pride flags in her classroom.

The directive came in an email sent by Reza Kolahifar, the district’s assistant superintendent for administration and personnel, citing a district policy that said school employees should not engage in political activities on school premises. Tony Felicio Jr., president of the Connetquot Teachers Association, confirmed that Kolahifar's email was sent Tuesday. 

“It is important to note that individuals should not engage in any active political practices that would exclude any student or make any individual feel uncomfortable,” Kolahifar wrote. “This includes, but is not limited to, discussions centered around personal beliefs and flags denoting political views.”

He noted that “the only flags that should be hung in a classroom or office are the American Flag and the NYS Flag.”

What to know

  • The Connetquot school district told its staff this week only the American and New York State flags can be hung in classrooms, a directive that LGBTQ advocates said came after a high school teacher refused to take down Pride flags in her classroom.
  • District officials said school employees should not engage in political activities on school grounds and the classroom is not the appropriate setting to express “individual personal beliefs.”
  • Advocates said the Pride flag is a symbol of their identity and not political, calling the district’s decision a harmful move that targets the LGBTQ community.

While law experts say school districts can prohibit political displays in classrooms, advocates say Pride flags are not political. 

“It’s our identity,” said David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the LGBT Network. “Being gay is not a political activity. It’s not an activity. It’s our lives. It’s who we are. … Love is not the problem."           

Kilmnick said school officials last month asked the teacher at Connetquot High School to take down the flags she had on display in her classroom, which is also where the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club meets. The teacher has had the flags, a Rainbow flag and a Progress Pride flag, on the wall for years and refused to take them down, he said. 

The Progress Pride flag has more colors — including black and brown stripes — than the traditional Rainbow flag. It is a design meant to be more inclusive, advocates said.

Felicio deferred questions to Kilmnick. The teacher declined an interview request through Kilmnick, who declined to identify her by name. 

Kilmnick said the teacher received a letter from high school Principal Michael Moran on Thursday saying she could face disciplinary action for failing to comply with the directive sent earlier this week. Kilmnick said the teacher was given until Friday to remove the flags. A message left at the principal's office wasn't immediately returned.

Kilmnick said his organization is planning a protest at 6 p.m. Tuesday outside the district office in Bohemia, before a school board meeting set for 7:30 p.m., to demand a reversal of the district’s flag display policy. Tuesday is also the National Coming Out Day.

In a statement emailed through a spokeswoman, Connetquot schools Superintendent Lynda G. Adams wrote Wednesday that the district is "aware of the mixed perspectives surrounding the display of the Progress Pride flag" in a classroom. 

“Schools must remain neutral and safe learning spaces for all students and staff and while we respect individual personal beliefs, the classroom is not the appropriate setting to express these views, especially if they create a disruption to the educational environment,” Adams wrote. “Any materials or conversations that violate this mission are prohibited within our schools.”

In an email sent to the school community Thursday, Adams wrote students in a classroom reported “feeling uncomfortable” about the Progress Pride flag, which the superintendent said was at least twice the size of the American flag on display.

Adams said the teacher was asked to remove that flag but keep the traditional Rainbow flag on the wall, a “compromise” she said the teacher rejected, as was an offer from the district of a sign that says “This is a safe space to be who you are.”

District officials clarified Thursday that curriculum-based flags will be allowed.                     

Jaclyn Napolitano-Furno, the school board president, did not respond to a request for comment.

David Bloomfield, education law professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said state law requires the display of the American flag on school grounds but only encourages its display in classrooms.

State law doesn’t say anything about the other flags, meaning a school board, which sets local school policies, can prohibit the display of other materials as long as it’s consistent and apolitical, he said.

“The idea of what is political is subjective and thus subject to attacks,” Bloomfield said. “If you put up a Ukrainian flag, are you putting it up as a political gesture or an educational matter?”

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