SUNBURY — The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday mailed Big Walnut Local Schools Board of Education a letter regarding its district flags and displays policy.
The three-page letter was sent by Amy Gilbert, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Ohio, in care of Board President Doug Crowl, with Superintendent Ryan McLane copied.
“We write to express our grave concerns with this policy, which is unconstitutional in multiple respects, and to urge this School Board to repeal it,” Gilbert wrote. “Should you fail to do so, we may be forced to take legal action.”
Gazette readers will recall that on Dec. 14, a divided school board voted 3-2 in favor of changes to policy number 8805 during a lengthy meeting that had more than three dozen citizens speaking in support of and in opposition to the amended resolution.
Gilbert said the policy “is vague to the point of incoherence… Yet even if Policy 8805 were coherent enough to be enforced, it would be a brazen attack on students’ First Amendment rights to free expression.”
The letter mentions a number of Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rulings that have “repeatedly held that free speech protections extend to teachers and students… Similarly, the First Amendment prohibits viewpoint discrimination… A mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint cannot justify the restriction of the display of flags deemed controversial.”
The letter quotes specific board member comments made during the Nov. 16 and Dec. 14 board meetings to show “that their purpose was to disfavor some categories of speech,” specifically Pride flags in some classrooms. These comments included:
• Crowl: “Let’s just say we have a child, who grew up in a household that’s very religious. OK? You think that they’re not feeling condemned when they’re walking into a room?” “This resolution doesn’t say flag, the gay flag, or the pride, whatever you want to call it.” “This policy will give us the authority, since we don’t have one currently…to control the flags and displays in the classroom, so when someone wants to come up and start a Satan club, let’s say, as an example, they can do that as a student club, but their Satan flag isn’t gonna be there in the morning.”
• Board member Alice Nicks: “The people who have reached out to me would be very relieved to go into a classroom where it’s not in their face.” “I would like to again remind everyone where this originated. Back in August, when parents came to me about their student being uncomfortable, not respected in the classroom where the flag was flying and I reached out to Mr. McLane, who very, very honestly said, we need a policy… I cannot do anything without a policy.”
Assistant Editor Gary Budzak covers the eastern half of Delaware County and surrounding areas. He may be reached at [email protected].