Miami Herald | By Sommer Brugal | December 14, 2022
The Miami-Dade School Board on Wednesday approved a measure to ensure the American and Florida flags are properly displayed in classrooms and district buildings, only after agreeing that “federally protected flags and classes may be visible” throughout the year.
The measure — which passed unanimously — was a shift away from the original item, which sought to allow only the American and Florida flags to be displayed throughout the district and prohibit any flags unrelated to the curriculum, such as flags from another country or a Black Lives Matter flag, for example, from being displayed throughout the year.
The original item was put forward by Roberto Alonso, a newly sworn board member and ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis. The intent, he said, was to ensure flags on display should correlate with specific parts of the curriculum. He also said the measure tasked the district with providing guidelines for teachers to understand how, when and which flags could be displayed and to reinforce existing district policies, which already require the U.S. flag and Florida flag with the state’s motto — “In God We Trust” — in all schools and buildings used by the board.
After discussion from board members and input from more than a dozen community members, however, Steve Gallon III proposed an amendment that would require schools to adhere to another district policy related to multicultural programs that would ensure federally protected flags and symbols of classes may be visible, as appropriate. Federally protected classes refers to how someone identifies and includes race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status and disability. It’s unclear how the agreed-upon language relates to the display of symbols that represent these classes.
The outcome could come as a surprise to some, given the board’s newly solidified conservative majority. But for Alonso, it indicated members are able to work together as “a unified board” and come to agreements in the best interest of students. The outcome, he said after the meeting, serves to reinforce policies already in place and analyze, as part of the amendment, which flags would be consider federally protected and abide by the Parental Rights in Education law.
After the decision, Karla Hernandez-Mats, teachers union president, applauded the board for listening to the community and showing that “this is a board that wants to do the right thing.”
CONCERNS RAISED ABOUT FALLOUT
Those who opposed the measure said their issues were not about ensuring the American flag was properly displayed, but instead about one of the measure’s elements, which asked for flexibility in the display of flags and that any flag displayed was in accordance with the Parents’ Bill of Rights.
All but one person — Alex Serrano, county director for County Citizens Defending Freedom, who’s been at the forefront of other cultural debates at the school board — who spoke on the issue Wednesday spoke against the item.
Much of the opposition stemmed from the perceived intention of the measure. About a dozen community members said they believed the measure was not about displaying the American flag but about removing symbols, such as the LGBTQ Pride flag, that create a safe and affirming environment for students. The presence of those symbols, they argued, does not diminish the symbolism or patriotism represented by the American flag but instead offers a sign of support and respect to students who belong to those groups; removing them does more harm than good.
A handful of board members also raised concerns, including Lucia Baez-Geller, who questioned how the measure would impact extracurricular activities and raised concerns about the measure’s vague language, arguing it could lead to the censorship of teachers and students. Andrea Pita Mendez, the board’s student adviser, questioned how it would impact students and upper-level classes that often discuss political issues.
For Maxx Fenning, president of PRISM, a local nonprofit that works to expand access to LGBTQ-inclusive education and sexual health resources, the “clarity in the text [related to] federally protected classes” was a relief. The addition ensures schools can accurately “represent the diversity in Miami-Dade.”