Westfield protesters want BLM and pride flags back in classrooms
Along West Hoover Street in Westfield, they were standing with large and small flags.
There were Black Lives Matter flags. And there was a variety of pride flags, including bisexual pride flags, transgender pride flags, progress pride flags, non-binary pride flags, and more.
For more than an hour on Friday afternoon, parents, students and Westfield supporters waved flags, waving signs and cheering as cars filled the street at the end of the school day. Some drivers honked in support. At least one person waved a pride flag in the car window.
Stretching from Shamrock Boulevard outside Westfield High School, more than 50 people gathered to show their support for the idea of having symbols of inclusion, such as pride flags and BLM flags, in the hall class after the district removed them last month.
The “Raise Your Flags” event was aimed at supporting students and teachers, said Brian Ayers, an organizer.
“We are trying to assert who they are and that they belong here,” Ayers said.
Westfield removes inclusion symbols
Westfield Superintendent Paul Kaiser told a group of Westfield High School students in August that pride flags, BLM flags and anything that could be considered political would be removed from classrooms.
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The district said it took the step as leaders discussed how to make classrooms more welcoming to all students. He said there is no policy preventing symbols of inclusion and none are in the works.
However, concerns expressed to the district, including from parents, prompted the move, district spokesperson Joshua Andrews previously told IndyStar.
This is the latest example of criticism related to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in Westfield schools.
In Hamilton County and across the country, diversity, equity and inclusion have been in the spotlight – and under the control of vocal groups – for months. This spring in Westfield, it was books about gender identity in elementary schools that sparked public comment marathons at school board meetings.
But the removal of the inclusion symbols is also one of the earliest examples of Kaiser’s response, which began as superintendent in late May.
Students and advocates have said that if it is about making students feel welcome, it is the symbols of inclusion that have been removed that are the very elements that make them feel welcome and safe. Participants on Friday echoed this, saying that symbols of inclusion are not political, but rather about a person’s identity.
Seeing a teacher who has a symbol of inclusion in their classroom – be it a sign, flag, or even a sticker – can show students which teachers they can turn to if they are intimidated or want someone. ‘one who will understand, the participants of the Friday event said.
State Senator JD Ford (D-Indianapolis), the first openly gay member of the Indiana General Assembly, agreed in brief comments at the start of the event.
“Thank you for your visibility, it’s really saving,” he told the group.
“No balance in there”
Future GLSEN Central Indiana board members hosted Friday’s event.
GLSEN is an organization that aims to end harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in K-12 schools. He also works to promote the inclusion of LGBTQ students.
The local is coming soon and just waiting for final accreditation, organizers said. They wore T-shirts with a quote from Desmond Tutu on the front: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the oppressor side.
Alisha Hunter, a parent of three students at Westfield Washington schools, including a transgender son, said the quote was for Kaiser, who has repeatedly said he needs to balance the concerns of all parents.
“Honestly, there’s no balance in that,” said Hunter, who helped organize the GLSEN chapter. She added that student life is not political.
Some have argued that allowing the pride or BLM flags means that the district should also allow other flags, such as the “Make America great again” flags.
Hunter said it was frustrating and wrong. The latter is political and something people have chosen to support, Hunter said. She said people don’t choose to be LGBTQ or black.
“This is what they are,” she said.
Ayers, a Westfield resident and GLSEN board member, added that schools should be a place where students can learn and be themselves.
Friday was an “immediate exposure to a community of caring people,” Ayers said.
Students, parents want pride flags, BLM flags return to classrooms
Among the students in attendance was Maddie Kilgore, a Westfield High School student who noticed a further lack of pride and BLM flags in the school.
Kilgore said the change was upsetting and doesn’t follow the love and kindness the school says it promotes. She added that there are still teachers who support students and prioritize inclusion.
So it’s not “us versus the adults,” Kilgore said of the students, adding that it was more “Westfield versus the oppressors”.
Kilgore added that it appears Kaiser and the district administration are not supporting and listening.
However, Andrews, the district spokesperson, has previously pointed out that Kaiser values the voice of students. Andrews said on Friday that conversations about what makes a welcoming classroom are ongoing.
Last weekend, students at Westfield High School launched a petition on Change.org to advocate for keeping symbols of inclusion in classrooms. As of Friday evening, more than 1,300 people had signed.
And several parents who attended on Friday said they removed one of their children from Westfield schools due to bullying related to race or being transgender.
This is the case of Katie Zoellner, who has a daughter in Westfield schools after deregistering her eldest daughter. Zoellner said her youngest daughter is black and worried about her safety and bullying. Symbols of inclusion help make students feel welcome, but also help educate other students and that could mean one less bully, she said.
Two parents from Pendleton, Robyn Axel-Adams and Kristen Case, also came to show their support for the students. In the spring, teachers at Pendleton Heights High School were ordered to remove pride flags from their classrooms.
They said Pendleton Schools were sticking to a message of neutrality and continuing to make decisions that negatively impact LGBT students, such as not using preferred names without parental approval.
“LGBT students feel targeted like never before,” Axel-Adams said of Pendleton students.
As Westfield executives continue to discuss what is welcoming, attendees at Friday’s event said they will continue to speak out and come forward until symbols of inclusion return to social media. classroom.
Call IndyStar education reporter MJ Slaby at 317-447-1586 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @mjslaby.