Pride flag removal prompts community response at Valparaiso School Board meeting
The removal of a Progress Pride flag from a Valparaiso High School classroom drew a number of impassioned comments during Thursday's school board meeting.
School Superintendent Dr. Jim McCall said that while classrooms must be safe spaces for all students, part of that includes addressing concerns about "non-curricular materials or speech." "There is a protocol to engage in, to come to a resolution, so that the educational process is not disrupted and a focus on learning can be had in a neutral classroom environment," McCall said.
But many of the students, parents, advocates and community members who spoke felt McCall's remarks were deliberately vague. Parent Brett Miller said LGBTQ+ students simply want to know that there's someone who cares about them.
"The statement you said tonight, I truly believe is just an oxymoron," Miller said. "It is something that the school board is saying because they have to say it, because they have a roomful of people that are questioning what you're not doing."
Many who spoke felt visible symbols like pride flags have a real impact, citing the high rates of bullying and suicide among LGBTQ+ youth.
Debora Porter is the president of PFLAG Valparaiso. "What breaks my heart is when my PFLAG phone rings and I talk to somebody and talk them away from the edge of the abyss of suicide, or worse, talk to a family who has just had the most depressing thing that ever could happen to them," Porter said.
A minority of speakers defended the flag's removal, arguing that it was inherently divisive. Jim Jepsen said his daughter, who has social anxiety, struggled in that particular classroom, and the teacher took the flag down willingly.
"This flag is not an inclusive one, regardless of what words you put on," Jepsen said. "This flag was designed for profit and separation."
This is not the first time Jepsen and his family have been at the center of a controversial issue at Valparaiso Community Schools. He was one of the parents who sued the school corporation last year over COVID-19 mask mandates. His wife, Jessica, who also spoke Thursday, was a vocal critic of mask mandates, who, more recently, was removed from the Porter County Board of Health for comments she reportedly made on social media.
School board member Erika Watkins said regardless of what flags hang in classrooms, the school district needs to make sure every student feels welcome. "I want us all to evaluate ourselves and how we respond to things and situations," Watkins said. That, overall, over everything that I heard tonight, is by far the best thing that I feel we call can do."
Superintendent McCall promised that the conversation would continue.