STONINGTON — Superintendent of Schools Mary Anne Butler said that after seeking additional legal counsel and working with the union, teachers, families and students, she will recommend that Pride flags be allowed to remain in classrooms.
A private meeting between Board of Education members, school administrators and representatives of the Stonington Education Association Wednesday evening led to constructive dialogue, officials said, and Butler said it has provided hope for a swift resolution supportive of the community following a backlash to reports that some teachers were asked to remove LGBTQ+ flags from classrooms earlier this month.
Butler said that after the additional conversations, she will recommend that the Board of Education find that the display of the Pride Flags in Stonington classrooms and school buildings “falls outside of the current Board policies specific to partisan political displays, political influence and political messaging within our classrooms.”
“These flags are statements of diversity, equity and inclusion that cross party lines and are not partisan,” she said in the recommendation, which is available on the Stonington schools website. “We demonstrate diversity, equity, and inclusion work in many ways, including our curriculum. Displaying the Pride flag is an important visual reminder of our commitment to that work. It is in keeping with the Board of Education’s second goal of addressing diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Wednesday's meeting, which was held in private, was called by the Stonington Education Association as part of protected negotiations associated with the teachers contract and personnel matters.
“Last night, representatives from the Stonington Education Association met with representatives of the Stonington Board of Education and had a very thoughtful and constructive dialogue over the issue with pride flags being displayed in Stonington Schools,” Stonington Education Association President Michael Freeman said in a written statement. “We believe we will be able to work together and collaboratively come to a swift resolution that will be in the best interests of the students and teachers.”
The issue has garnered widespread attention since requests to staff were made public following a set of emails from Freeman to union members last week.
The emails had asked teachers to comply with the requests coming from Butler, and notified union members that a meeting was set with Butler in November. Backlash from the public led to requests for an earlier meeting, which was held Wednesday.
Assistant Superintendent Tim Smith said in a written statement late last week that the requests to staff were made as a result of a parent concern regarding how pride flags were displayed in some classrooms.
In a statement issued on his campaign for state Senate's Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon, Board of Education Chairman Farouk Rajab indicated he was concerned that “the simplification of a complicated issue” contributed to confusion, and that the opinions of a minority group are being used in an attempt to censor the symbol.
“They are more concerned about censoring what is taught in our schools, from canceling books and glossing over aspects of our history,” Rajab said in the statement. “Sometimes we have to stand up for what is right, and standing up for our LGBTQ+ community is always the right thing to do. I stand with them as an ally and as a leader who will be there to listen to their concerns, in order to create more inclusive policies in the future.”
Rajab praised teachers, staff and administrators for their efforts to make everyone feel included in the process and said numerous stakeholders have been involved in ongoing conversations regarding flags on display. He said making sure all students feel safe and included remains a top priority.
While there has been a lot of support in favor of allowing Pride flags on display, others have expressed frustration over the issue becoming politicized.
In a message to Rajab below the post on the Facebook page, Stonington Republican Shaun Mastroianni questioned the motive in calling it political and called on both sides to reach across the aisle to support the LGBTQ+ community.
“I am a gay Republican in Stonington. I can assure you that the Republicans did not create this for political gain in Stonington,” he said. “It has been a tough week for the LGBTQ community, but to see this false narrative that this was created for political gain in our community is beyond hurtful.”
Residents interested in sharing their opinions are encouraged to attend the special meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Stonington Board of Education Central Office building on Field Street (the old Pawcatuck Middle School). The meeting will include discussions regarding both the superintendent's and the Board of Education's recommendations, as well as public comment.