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Stoughton High senior calls on School Committee to allow LGBTQ+ Pride flags in classrooms

Some local residents say social justice issues distract students from learning.

Olivia Tran, a Stoughton High senior, addressed the School Committee with support from her mother, Liza Tran.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

A Stoughton High School senior suspended a half-day last week for displaying an LGBTQ+ Pride flag defended her actions Tuesday night before the town’s School Committee, while other speakers pushed back against her suggestion that Pride and Black Lives Matter flags should be allowed in classrooms.

“These flags do not discriminate against anyone. They do not hurt anyone. So why are they controversial?” Olivia Tran asked the panel, according to a video of her speech. “If you choose to hang them, you choose love.”

Tran was disciplined after she walked out of class to support three teachers who she said were recently given a written warning to stop displaying Pride flags in classrooms in violation of a policy prohibiting the display of any “political” items, including Pride, Black Lives Matter, or Thin Blue Line signs.

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The policy’s goal was to create “neutral learning environments,” Superintendent Thomas Raab said previously.

Raab, School Committee Chairwoman Sandra Groppi, and Stoughton High Principal Juliette Miller did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday night.

In a letter to the district last week, Raab explained that the directive came from him, not the School Committee, and his decision was not motivated by politics. He said to maintain consistency, he could not allow any specific type of flag or poster without allowing others.

“It is very important to me that all of our students are supported and accepted for who they are, and that we are messaging that stance through our actions and words,” Raab said in the letter. “I am sympathetic to the needs of our LGBTQIA+ students as well as the needs of all our underrepresented students.”

School and district leaders delivered the directive during a September faculty meeting. After teachers raised concerns, Miller told faculty in an e-mail the next day that the district was trying to keep the school inclusive for everyone.

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In place of any personal flags, LGBTQ+ ally stickers were ordered and placed on all classroom doorways.

Staff members are allowed to wear clothing and buttons that display the symbols banned from classrooms, including wearing flags as a cape or a shawl.

Some teachers at the high school kept their Pride flags up, however. At least three received written warnings from the principal stating that they were “insubordinate” for refusing to comply with the directive and that further disciplinary actions would be taken if they did not remove the flags, according to a copy of one of the letters obtained by the Globe.

Before Tuesday night’s meeting, a crowd of chanting supporters gathered outside for a protest organized by Tran, she said in a phone interview.

“The message I want to send tonight is that the superintendent can’t silence us,” Tran said. “I told [the School Committee] that we deserve a voice and that Superintendent Raab has been ignoring it, even though he’s pretending to listen to it.”

Vernon Domingo, 72, lives in Bridgewater, but said he felt compelled to join the protest as the proud parent of a transgender son and he feels the district’s policy “sends a message of exclusion.”

“I was just taken aback,” said Domingo, a retired geography professor at Bridgewater State University, in an interview after the protest. “What it does is it makes many students — Black and brown and LGBTQ students — feel not wanted. A lot of schools have flags, and it’s just part of the decor.”

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Others addressed the School Committee in support of the policy.

Rabbi Henry Morse of the Sha’ar Hashamayim Messianic Congregation in Stoughton said he believes “in conservative values that have made our country what it is.”

“We need to come back to a place of innocence like we’ve had in the past,” Morse, 64, said in an interview after the meeting. “I don’t think these things belong in our schools, and I don’t think we need to be endorsing them. I think we need to teach them — get back to the basics — reading, writing, and arithmetic.”

“Before you know it,” Morse said, “we’re sexualizing our babies and having drag queens in the libraries shaking their little tuchuses everywhere. When did that become normal?”

Lisa Lyons said she was chosen to address the School Committee on behalf of parents, grandparents, and concerned citizens, and she “emphatically” supports the superintendent’s policy.

“We support having only the American flag represented in our schools,” Lyons said in an interview after the meeting. “Having other flags can be discriminatory, divisive, controversial, and it distracts from the main focus of academics.”

“We need to unify each other around the goal of education, which is academically educating our children,” she said. “It is not the social justice issues.”

Matt Lee of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him @jeremycfox. Matt Yan can be reached at matt.yan@globe.com. Follow him @matt_yan12.