One of two flags that sparked controversy in the community last fall was removed from a Maquoketa High School classroom.
The school district required that teacher Mykah Kennedy remove the Black Lives Matter flag Jan. 3 after district officials decided the flag represents a political organization and lobbying efforts.
The LGBTQ+ flag will remain because it “is a generic flag representative of a variety of different individuals who identify with different sexual orientations,” according to a letter released by the district and posted to its social media.
Kennedy expressed both disappointment and understanding at the school administration’s decision.
“I am glad that administrators were willing to take the time to research the background of each flag before they made their decision,” the language arts teacher said. “I’m disappointed that the flag has to come down, but I understand the reasoning behind it. I’m continuing to work on another display for my classroom that has the same sentiment of love and respect as the original flag’s original meaning.”
Kennedy had displayed both flags in her classroom for the past three years, when she began teaching in Maquoketa. The flags became an issue after the Iowa Department of Education found the district lacked a policy dealing with free expression in classrooms — a policy that Iowa Legislature mandated in 2022.
At about the same time, the district received a community complaint about the flags being on display. This led to three school board meetings last fall in which more than 20 community members voiced their opinions on the matter.
During one of the meetings, Kennedy said she displayed the flags to “cultivate an inclusive classroom culture” at the high school.
Other members of the public opposed the display of flags in school, saying those flags offended other individuals and that the BLM flag was more political than social.
Last November, school board members ultimately adopted an expression policy referencing three other board policies that delineate teachers’ political activities and the teaching of controversial issues.
The two flags remained in the classroom while the board developed a formal guidance process to determine what displays should be allowed in classrooms.
Removing the BLM flag
The district formulated that decision in December.
Superintendent Tara Notz said the board sought guidance from the district’s legal counsel, the Iowa Association of School Boards, and the Iowa Department of Education to determine what classroom displays would be considered “political” or “controversial.”
That generated five guiding questions the district will consider in such expression cases, Notz said (see sidebar for questions).
Notz and the high school administration team applied those questions to the LGBTQ+ and BLM flags. The first flag represented individuals while the BLM flag now is deemed to represent a political organization, administrators decided.
They asked Kennedy to remove the BLM flag on Jan. 3, the superintendent said.
“The admin team explained to the teacher how the decision was made using the political expression guiding questions and the teacher understood why the BLM display needed to be removed under these guidelines and following our Employee Expression policy,” Notz explained.
The guiding questions will be applied districtwide, she said.
“We have asked all staff to review displays in their room through this lens and if they have questions, to meet with their administration so we can work through the policy together,” Notz said. “This process will also be applied if a staff member, student or community member/parent has a concern that a display is posted and is not in compliance with our Employee Expression policy or any other district policy.”
Notz said she is not aware of any similar situations in any other classrooms at this time.
Some proponents of the flags in the classroom stated that, in their opinion, the district did not do enough to promote inclusivity and diversity in school.
As a result, the board on Monday night planned to discuss the formation of a Climate/Culture Committee. Among the committee’s goals would be to make “growth in ensuring inclusion, diversity and equity for all students in our district,” Notz said.
“We look forward to having representation from all groups on this committee to provide guidance to our Board of Directors that would include parents, community members, staff and students,” she said.
Details about how to become part of this committee were to be announced after the board meeting Jan. 16, which, coincidentally, was Martin Luther King Jr. Day.