Three Rivers board votes to allow pride flags in classrooms

St. Joseph County

THREE RIVERS, Mich. (WOOD) — Three weeks ago, Three Rivers Community Schools teachers were told by administrators to take down pride flags hanging in their classrooms.

That issue was the center of attention Monday night at the board of education’s first public meeting since then, ending in the school’s board voting to allow pride flags back in the classroom.

At the beginning of the meeting, the board and superintendent voted to add to the agenda “class suit declarations,” which is related to the pride flag incident.

Administrators had to move the meeting from the administration building to the high school’s performing arts center right across the street due to a massive attendance. Many showed up to voice their stance on it.

An overwhelming majority of public comments were against the district’s orders to have teachers take down any LGBTQ flags hung in classrooms.

“Our district pushes that we’re the district of choice,” one parent said. “But who are we the district of choice for? Only straight students?”

“In regards to all the students that saw this flag get taken down , you sent a clear message to them that their sexuality is not okay at Three Rivers Community Schools, and they should go back to their closet where they put their flag,” another parent added.

A registered nurse also argued the flags should be allowed back up because of the mental health and well-being it provides to the LGBTQ community.

“This is not a question of a flag or political statement,” she said. “Every medical organization, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends putting up symbols, like a pride flag, in medical offices and waiting rooms so that the students, and youth, and young adults that come in know that they have a safe place to be.”

Some students from Three Rivers Middle School also chimed in, all opposing the move taking the flags down.

“Your belief and who you are are two very different things,” one student said.

“It’s good to know that people are here to support you when you see that flag,” another added.

“Time is changing. It’s 2021. Get your head in the present,” a third said.

There were a few who voiced their support of the move, citing religion, a lack of representation of other groups and concerns for staff who don’t display the flag in the classroom.

One community member who claims she was reading a letter from a teacher absent from the meeting said, “What will the students think of the teacher that didn’t hang one up in their classroom? Will that then be discrimination?”

“If I’m not allowed to fly my flag, then it’s all-or-nothing,” one man added. “No one gets to fly it or everybody gets to fly it.”

Another man drew a hypothetical for the board.

“What if anyone wants to come in and fly any flag? Satanistic flag? Are you going to say yes to that?” he said.

The public comment period was mostly civil until the last person to speak was at the microphone. 

Pastor Jerry Solis, who is also running for state representative in St. Joseph County, told board members he “doesn’t believe a trans group belongs in schools,” which drew shouting from the audience.

“An LGBTQ trans group and a flag, they don’t belong,” Solis said. “They can be counterproductive to the child. It reinforces to them that they are wrong.”

The board kept the comment clock running, then adjourned to a closed session while Solis was trying to finish.

Members were in closed session for more than two hours before returning with their decision. They voted unanimously to allow the flags back up in classrooms and to create a “classroom display policy” with community input in the coming months. 

Interim Superintendent Nikki Nash says details on how the community can provide feedback on this policy will be released in the new year.

Russell Ball, who quit his job as a health teacher at Three Rivers Middle School after being told to take down his flag, on Tuesday praised the board’s decision:

“I think it’s awesome,” he told News 8 via text message. “I’m happy how the community rallied around the students and that the district chose to allow acceptance and inclusiveness in the schools.”

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