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Miami-Dade school board protects the U.S. flag in classrooms - and expressions of identity

A U.S. flag hangs in a classroom as students work on laptops in Newlon Elementary School in Denver, Colorado. (David Zalubowski/AP)
David Zalubowski
A U.S. flag hangs in a classroom as students work on laptops in Newlon Elementary School in Denver, Colorado.

The Miami-Dade County School Board has passed a policy to ensure the American flag is properly displayed in classrooms and on school grounds.

In a surprising move that brought approval from LGBTQ advocates, the conservative-leaning board also voted for an amendment to allow flags that align with federally protected classes, which include race, color, sex and national origin.

It came after parents and campaigners had raised concerns about previous versions of the flag proposal, which they feared would have banned the display of any flag that’s not the U.S. or Florida flag.

But due to the board's Parents' Bill of Rights policy, parents still have a path to object to materials used in classrooms that they don't agree with.

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Newly-elected board member Roberto Alonso, who was endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, sponsored the original policy.

Earlier this year, former board member Christi Fraga brought a similar measure but later withdrew the proposal before she resigned her seat in November. The leader of the Miami-Dade County chapter of Moms for Liberty had advocated for Fraga’s measure, with the aim of banning the display of flags for LGBTQ Pride or the Black Lives Matter movement, according to reporting by the Miami Herald.

But Alonso said he did not consult with Moms for Liberty or any other outside group on his proposal.

“The only person that I worked with is with our superintendent, with our legal department, as well as our staff,” Alonso said at a board meeting on Wednesday. “There was no outside groups that worked or provided me any language whatsoever on this item.”

It is our hope that censoring teacher autonomy and removing cultural identities from our classroom is not the priority of our school board
Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade

Before board member Steve Gallon offered the amendment to the measure, a stream of parents and LGBTQ advocates criticized the proposal, which references the district’s Parents’ Bill of Rights policy. That bill allows parents to object to materials used in the classroom “based on beliefs regarding morality, sex, and religion or the belief that such materials are harmful,"

Karla Hernandez-Mats, the president of United Teachers of Dade, urged the board to respect cultural pride and free expression.

“It is our hope that censoring teacher autonomy and removing cultural identities from our classroom is not the priority of our school board,” she said. “This will cause a decline in academic richness in a district that is A-rated because of its rich curriculum of all cultures and identities.”

Only one member of the public spoke in support of Alonso’s measure — Alejandro Serrano, the executive director of the Miami-Dade chapter of County Citizens Defending Freedom. Serrano has been vocal in advocating against LGBTQ-inclusive instruction and comprehensive sex education.

“The Parents’ Bill of Rights are provisions that respect the instructional flexibility to display flags that correspond to relevant curriculum, while effectively allowing the district to remain neutral and to restrict the imposition of flag symbols that represent political, controversial and or ideological issues,” Serrano said.

Mary Eakins-Durand, a field manager with LGBTQ organization Equality Florida, countered this argument.

“A person's heritage, country of origin, ethnicity, background, identity or race is not political,” she said. “Educators have an important role of creating classroom environments that are safe and affirming for all students. Our teachers want to be able to do their job without school board members trying to make their classrooms political.”

Proposal is scrutinized, then amended

Board member Lucia Baez-Geller — who was a classroom teacher before taking office — scrutinized the proposal before it was amended, asking if it could constrain a student’s ability to wear a flag emblem or prevent a teacher from displaying the flags of her family’s country of origin.

Baez-Geller pointed out language in the agenda item calling on the district to “restrict the display of flags that promote a political issue”.

“As a teacher, I do really fear about keeping this broad, incredibly vague language in the item that could mean so many things,” Baez-Geller said. “I really fear that this term is so vague that it's going to lead to censorship in our classrooms, which is entirely un-American."

The amendment expanding the proposal to allow flags that align with federally protected classes passed easily. Afterwards, LGBTQ advocates said they’re satisfied that the amended language will allow for free expression.

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter.