At the top of 2020, Marshall Middle School made what seemed like an innocuous move, raising a bunch of cultural flags in the cafeteria.
By February, swaths of residents were crowding into the school board chambers to get their two cents in on the issue. Why, they asked, was a rainbow Pride flag allowed to hang in a public school, when being gay or trans went “against God’s preordained purposes and order”?
And why had students’ “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden snake flags allegedly been confiscated when they hung them on their lockers in protest?
Karrie Alberts, genders and sexualities alliance (GSA) advisor for Marshall High School, tried to set the record straight. Queer and trans kids’ identities should not be treated as a debate or a controversy, she said.
“They cannot hear that they are ungodly, or they are second-rate, or that they should be hidden away in some other room.”
There were whispers of possible legal action on the horizon. Minneapolis attorney Bill Mohrman was among those who came to speak that night, and he said a few residents in the crowd had retained him to sue the board if they didn’t create some kind of policy about what flags can and cannot be displayed in schools.
Half a year (and yet, somehow, a lifetime) later, on Monday, the school board approved the district’s official statement on the matter -- just in time for Pride Month.
“We have heard from numerous residents, staff, and students on this issue, and would like to sincerely thank the community for showing its support and reaffirming the importance of our schools in the lives of our students and community,” it began.
This, in the statements business, is known as “one way to put it.”
The statement continued that the district is fully within its authority to decide what stances to take or speech to sanction, the same way it’s got the right to determine its academic curriculum. It “does not need a policy” on what flags will be allowed to hang in schools, “contrary to claims being made in the community.”
So, in short, the school board would “not be acting on any community requests from outside the school” to hang any new flags or take any further action on the display. All issues of “free speech rights” had been followed up on with the students themselves, and were not a matter of public record.
The Pride flag will stay. The district didn’t respond to interview requests, but the statement was approved unanimously at Monday’s school board meeting, after a brief closed session to discuss the threatened lawsuit.
The mood on a Facebook page for Marshall moms is something like bemusement, with a dash of careful optimism.
“…We won?” one commenter asked.
“Yay!!” another said. She’d been admittedly “excited” to see the flag still hanging in the school’s welcome video for new students.
It’s a fittingly quiet and weird start to a Pride month riddled with pandemic worries and unrest across the state over the police killing of George Floyd. There will be no parade this year in Minneapolis, but Pride will carry on in other ways. You can find out more about those here.