Bluffton made headlines in 2006, when it was among the first to join the National League of Cities' Partnership for Working Toward Inclusive Communities, an initiative aimed at fostering dialogue about diversity and acceptance.
Signs were erected telling visitors, “Welcome. We are building an inclusive community.”
“Inclusiveness means different things to different people,” then-Mayor Ted Ellis told USA Today at the time. “In Selma (Alabama) and Little Rock, it's a long history of racial tension. But if you live long enough, everyone has been excluded at some time.”
School leaders in the Wells County city of about 10,000 should carefully consider those points as they move forward with drafting measures designed to address so-called “controversial issues.”
The issue in this case is a pride flag, a rainbow banner middle school science teacher Bev Balash told reporters has been in her classroom for years and signifies openness for students who want to talk.
A parent recently complained about the flag, prompting Bluffton-Harrison Metropolitan School District board members to schedule a special meeting to discuss crafting policies on “topic(s) on which opposing points of view have been promulgated by responsible opinion and/or is likely to arouse both support and opposition in the community.”
That convoluted legalese is part of a controversial issues resolution, one of two measures given preliminary approval Tuesday by the five-member board. The other – labeled “classroom postings” and drawing no votes from two board members – calls on teachers to display only items related to curriculum and instructional goals, though exemptions are included for things such as school clubs, sports and teachers' personal items.
“Classroom postings should not contain materials, such as political or religious material, that is unrelated to the curriculum and instruction goals of the courses of study conducted in that classroom,” the policy says. “Any postings related to a subject on which the curriculum permits multiple points of view must not tend to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.”
That's vague and could leave the 1,600-student school district vulnerable to legal challenges.
Wells County Prosecutor Andy Carnall said as much when he addressed the board and questioned whether the proposals run afoul of federal civil rights laws.
“The right thing is to allow that flag to remain in the classroom,” Carnall said, according to the Bluffton News-Banner.
There are other potential consequences, including protests. Pro-flag demonstrators attended the Bluffton meeting, and many of the 50 people who spoke favored the flag and Balash.
Parents in Oregon opposed to a decision to ban pride and Black Lives Matter flags erected an 8-foot by 16-foot plywood pride flag overlooking a school located about 20 miles from Portland.
Fort Wayne Pride, in a statement posted to Facebook, said many opposed to it have misconstrued the meaning of the flag.
“Many who are opposed are saying this is promoting sex and politics in the classroom and that it is divisive,” the statement says. “The LGBTQ Pride flag is a symbol of inclusion that is welcoming to all. When an LGBTQ student or students from LGBTQ families see a rainbow flag, they know they have entered a safe space.”
Inclusivity means inviting in more students, ideas and discussions – not fewer. School policies should reflect that.