Teachers at Springfield's largest high school, Kickapoo, told to remove Pride flags

·4 min read

The principal of Springfield's largest high school told "a handful" of teachers Monday to remove the Pride flags displayed in their classrooms.

Kickapoo High School Principal Bill Powers instructed the educators to take down the flags by the end of Tuesday — and all have complied, the district confirmed.

"I'm writing today in regards to the Pride flag each of you has in your classroom," wrote Powers in the email message obtained by the News-Leader. "It was recently brought to my attention that we should not be displaying the flags."

Powers referred the employees to school board policy GBCB — approved in 2014 and updated in 2019 — which spells out expectations for staff conduct.

The policy starts with this overview: "The Board of Education expects every employee to act professionally, ethically and responsibly; use good judgment; and do what is necessary to maintain a safe learning environment and positive relations with students, parents/guardians, coworkers and the public. Employees are asked to share concerns with their supervisors and will not be disciplined for speech that is protected by law."

Pride rainbow flag.
Pride rainbow flag.

More: Southwest Missouri teacher resigns after school district tells him to remove pride flag, not discuss sexuality

Powers urged the employees to review the policy to better understand the expectations. He also initiated a dialogue with the employees.

"Conversations have begun and will continue with the individuals in question," confirmed Stephen Hall, chief communications officer with Springfield Public Schools. "His door remains open."

Asked what prompted Powers' directive to remove the flags, Hall said only: "It was brought to his attention."

A Kickapoo teacher confirmed receiving the flag removal request. The individual asked not to be identified, out of concern he or she might be targeted publicly, and expressed frustration with the decision but not with Powers.

"All I will say is that I believe our principal to be an inclusive person and inclusive leader in the SPS community," the teacher told the News-Leader.

In a statement, Hall said the district is committed to providing the "equitable learning environments that equip all students with the support needed to achieve their full potential."

To that end, Hall said the district places "equity champions" in each building to provide support for underrepresented and under-resourced students.

Hall said board policy GBCB clearly states that "employees will not represent their personal opinions as the opinion of the district.”

"This applies to speech and to the use of district property, including the classroom. When employee conduct does not align with this policy, it is the district’s expectation that supervisors hold team members accountable for maintaining a professional standard," Hall wrote, in a statement.

"In this circumstance, Dr. Powers acted appropriately to clarify the board policy. This is essential in order to prevent disruptions to the learning environment and to ensure the focus in the classroom remains on academics."

Kickapoo High School.
Kickapoo High School.

Hall said with all policies, consistency is imperative, and the district "will take steps to clarify expectations ahead of the first day of school." He said the clarification may go out as early as Thursday.

"It is also important to note that when an employee disagrees or has concerns with a directive, the professional expectation is for them to address it with their supervisor directly," Hall said.

In a follow-up interview, Hall said when employees deviate from approved messaging, there is a risk of violating the board policy.

"There needs to be a standardized approach that the classroom environment is focused on academics and curricular issues," he said.

More: In emails, three SPS board members criticized district's 'defiant' response to Missouri AG

Asked if requests to remove Pride flags in other schools have gone out, Hall said not to his knowledge.

Hall said the request to remove Pride flags does not restrict what students may display, as part of their protected self-expression.

The same board policy states: "School employees shall not direct a student to remove an emblem, insignia or garment, including a religious emblem, insignia or garment, as long as such emblem, insignia or garment is worn in a manner that does not promote disruptive behavior."

Kickapoo has garnered attention in recent years for a string of isolated but troubling incidents involving historically marginalized groups, including:

Hall said school employees are still allowed to display Safe Space stickers or insignia in a classroom or work area.

"The Safe Place stickers are appropriate," he said. "Those stickers have a message that makes it clear why they are there."

Hall said the intent of the smaller, square stickers is to reassure students that they have trusted adults in the school building that can be a resource.

This spring, the board in a Kansas City area high school — Grain Valley — told teachers to remove any cards and stickers that show support to LGBTQ students including ones that say "Safe space for all."

A smattering of similar requests have cropped up this year.

Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to criley@news-leader.com.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Teachers at largest Springfield high school told to remove Pride flags