Washington Teacher Ordered to Remove Thin Blue Line Flag from Classroom While School District Encourages LGBTQ, BLM Flags

FILE - In this July 28, 2016, file photo, a flag with a blue and black stripes in support of law enforcement officers, flies at a protest by police and their supporters outside Somerville City Hall in Somerville, Mass. San Francisco's police chief said the city's rank and file will …
AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File

The Marysville school district in Washington state has doubled down on a decision to make an unnamed teacher remove a Thin Blue Line flag from her middle school classroom, but Black lives Matter and LGBTQ flags remain welcome in the school district.

Superintendent Chris Pearson sent a letter to families and staff September 27, stating the teacher breached school policy regarding political speech by hanging the flag from her wall:

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.

In his letter, the superintendent also stated that “Controversial Issues, prevent school staff from using district time, property, position or other resources for political purposes,” adding:

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.

Immediately after noting that staff is not permitted to use “district time, property, position or other resources for political purpose,” pertaining to controversial political opinions, Pearson then attempted to justify the district’s decision to allow teachers to hang Black lives Matter and LGBTQ flags:

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.

The anonymous teacher’s brother, Chris Sutherland, is a recently retired Marysville police officer and shared his thoughts on the school district’s decision with “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH in Seattle. Sutherland informed Rantz that his sister informed him that:

A new assistant principal came in and told her that she had to take down the Blue Line flag that she had hanging in support of me, and a lot my family’s in law enforcement, and she had pictures of me throughout my career around it. They just said, “you have to take this down,” and my sister was like, “I’m not going to.”

Sutherland was the School Resource Officer during a school shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School on October 24, 2014, and was named “Washington State School Resource Officer” of the year for his bravery and life-saving actions.

“Going through all of that, my family going through that with me, my friends going through that, my colleagues who also were there is just kind of like a slap in the face for the school district to take this down, yet they’ll still call us anytime they need us. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Sutherland told Rantz.

Sutherland says that within days his sister had been ordered by human resources to take the flag down. “They told her that it’s controversial to have that flag up, that it makes kids and or staff feel unsafe, which to me, that does not make sense at all,” the retired officer told Rantz. 

“It’s been demonized over a while now,” Sutherland added. “I just wish people would understand how important that is and what law enforcement means to the communities and the schools.”

The teacher removed the flag from her classroom and said the ordeal “has been the most traumatic and hostile” situation she has experienced as a school employee.


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