Marysville, Washington – A Thin Blue Line flag was displayed by a school teacher to honor her brother, a former school resource officer — but the flag violates district policy about teachers promoting political beliefs, school officials say.
LETTER FROM DR. CHRIS PEARSON, INTERIM SUPERINTENDENT:
Dear Marysville Families and Staff,
Today, I arrived at our Service Center to a variety of emails and phone messages related to different social media posts and articles about the Thin Blue Line Flag. This letter seeks to provide some clarification about the topic of political speech in the classroom and why some speech may be permissible, per policy, while others may not.
First of all, the District has policies in place regarding political speech at school. District Policy 4300 – Political Relationships with Governmental Agencies, Policy 5252 – Staff Participation in Political Activities, and Policy 2331 – Controversial Issues, prevent school staff from using district time, property, position or other resources for political purposes. These policies are meant to provide guidance in determining whether certain speech is political. Generally speaking, if a teacher promotes a political belief in their course content that is not clearly relevant to the material being taught, or when the teacher may be reasonably perceived as simply using their position as a platform for promoting their own view, or when the teacher’s speech could potentially disrupt the student learning environment or sense of student safety, then the teacher is in violation of these policies.
When looking at the use of any particular symbol or image in the classroom, a determination is made by the district under these policies and using related guidance. Some concerns have been raised about the display of the Thin Blue Line Flag in a classroom, particularly as it relates to the aforementioned policies. As a symbol, in and of itself, with no instructional purpose or educational context, the Thin Blue Line Flag can be interpreted in a variety of ways by students who come from very diverse backgrounds. While it might be viewed by some as a tribute to police, this symbol was also used by hate groups in the 2017 far-right rally in Charlottesville, and was also carried by rioters during the January 6th attacks on the US Capital. Therefore, without any educational context or purpose, the display of this symbol in a school classroom cannot be reasonably divorced from the political meanings that have been attached to its varied uses and, as a result, may send a mixed or even disruptive message to staff, students and families.
Additionally, one of the questions that has come up as part of this conversation has been about the difference between a Thin Blue Line Flag display and a Black Lives Matter display or Pride Flag. In a school context, and related to the aforementioned policies, these other two symbols can be seen as having a specific educational purpose that is directly aligned with instructional objectives or extracurricular programs. For example, our students participate in several different extracurricular leadership activities, including our Black Student Union, Latino Student Union, LGBTQIA+ Club, to name a few. In these cases, these symbols, or others like them, can be appropriate in a school setting. For many of our most vulnerable students who might participate in one of these clubs, these symbols may also help them to feel both heard and seen by their school community. Likewise, since the Marysville School District names “Equity” as one of our district values and an essential part of our strategic planning work, symbols that support notions of equity and inclusion are in alignment with these values and goals and, thus, may be appropriate for campus display.
I also want to highlight that our relationship with the Marysville Police Department continues to be a strong and positive one. We support this partnership by providing funding for two School Resource Officers, and we work together on a daily basis to keep kids safe in a variety of contexts. We are very grateful for our local law enforcement and the support they provide our district and schools.
Lastly, I would like to recognize our teachers and school staff who work each day to meet the needs of our students. I recognize you for the work that you do to make our students feel safe and included. Our themes for the year, particularly in such challenging times, continue to focus on creating school cultures across the district where students feel a sense of belonging and are empowered to feel successful.
Dr. Chris Pearson