MILWAUKEE (AP) — A Wisconsin school district's decision to tell bar employees from displaying gay pride flags in classrooms or from putting their preferred pronouns in email signatures prompted pushback from students, alumni and others, while the superintendent said it was just reaffirming a policy that was already in place.
Kettle Moraine School District Superintendent Stephen Plum recently told the school board the district's interpretation of a policy that prohibits staff from using their positions to promote partisan politics, religious views and propaganda for personal, monetary or nonmonetary gain changed following a legal analysis, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Plum said teachers and administrators are prohibited from displaying political or religious messages in their classrooms or on their person, including gay pride flags and Black Lives Matter and We Back the Badge signs. Staff also may not say in emails what their preferred pronouns are.
The district posted about the decision on its Facebook page July 27, drawing hundreds of comments, most in opposition to the move.
Trey Korte, who is gay and taught English at Kettle Moraine High School from 2009 to 2019, said he was angry and sad about the policy disallowing pride flags.
"When you remove something that had been there awhile that represented a marginalized group, when you take that away, it does make people feel unwelcome,” Korte told The Associated Press Wednesday.
Critics said the ban conflicts with the school district's motto “Learning Without Boundaries,” as promoted on its website.
“We live in a world where politics are highlighted, and it puts people in uncomfortable positions. I feel the staff can fully support students. I feel that every staff member, custodian and teacher ought to know that it’s really in the best interest of the students to look out for them and to have strong, healthy relationships that develop therefrom,” Plum told the school board at a July 26 meeting.
Kettle Moraine School Board President Gary Vose backed the decision.
“This isn’t a case where we’re trying to discriminate against any group or groups for that matter, but rather just to bring clarity to allow staff to know where the line is drawn on these various things. It’s not a popularity contest. Regardless what we do here, we’re going to have some that are going to love it, some that are going to hate it. Regardless of that, I think it’s the right thing to do. I’m fully behind it,” Vose said.
Two students at Kettle Moraine High School, Bethany Provan and Brit Farrar started an online petition opposing the ban, which had generated nearly 1,400 signatures by Wednesday.
The petition said that pride flags can help students “feel safe and supported” and that instead of barring teachers from using their preferred pronouns in email signatures, schools should teach students what pronouns are.
“You use them in everyday life. So is it a crime for our teachers to say what they would like to be referred by?” the petition said.