Reno Teacher Protests School Board Policy Banning Pride Flags in Classroom

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday September 21, 2020

Jennifer Leja
Jennifer Leja  (Source:Jennifer Leja / TikTok)

Buzzfeed has profiled a Reno, Nevada school teacher whose district has banned from the classroom anything resembling political speech — including LGBTQ Pride flags and Black Lives Matter posters.

Jennifer Leja, a bisexual 7th and 8th grade teacher in the Washoe County School District, is protesting the school board's new policy that prohibits "partisan political activities" during school hours and states that "any signage that is displayed on District property that is, or becomes, political in nature must be removed or covered." Leja explains that keeping assorted rainbow-colored paraphernalia in the classroom has signaled to students that hers is a safe space for LGBTQ students. But now, the school district policy deems such signals as "political speech."

Stating that the Pride flag represent an integral part of who she is, Leja says "the issue that I have with [the ban] is, I don't think my existence and my identity is a political issue. I think that being able to have a rainbow flag is as much a part of my identity as anything else."

Even if the policy doesn't prohibit Leja from talking about her sexual orientation and experience as an LGBTQ person, Buzzfeed reports that school board Trustee Andrew Caudill, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court's Janus decision in 2018, explained to Leja in an email:

"The courts have held LGBTQ+ issues to be political speech and thus, the rainbow flag [is considered] to be political speech, so it cannot be expressed through clothing and other means, such as displaying a flag in your class. Who you are is not impacted by this policy, only what is expressed in class through visual aids."

Caudill also explained that "the policy does not impact who a teacher is, it only impacts the advocacy for a specific political position." That political position would appear to be recognizing the full humanity of LGBTQ people through equal rights and legal protections — which is what the Pride flag represents.

Buzzfeed notes that the policy does not apply to students, who are free to express their political in speech and in clothing items.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.

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