Which flags can be flown in a Miami-Dade classroom? School Board to address controversy
Miami Herald | By Sommer Brugal | December 13, 2022
The Miami-Dade County School Board on Wednesday will consider a measure that would allow only the American flag and the official motto of the State of Florida be displayed in classrooms and on school district grounds — one month after a nearly identical item was withdrawn from the board’s agenda after pushback from the community and a canceled board workshop.
The policy, proffered by newly sworn-in board member Roberto Alonso, seeks to ensure the district is complying with board policy that requires the American flag be in visible in classrooms and to prohibit any flags unrelated to the curriculum — flags from another country in a world history class, a Black Lives Matter flag or a rainbow flag to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month, for example — from being displayed throughout the year.
The goal, Alonso asserted, is to give teachers autonomy and flexibility in their classrooms to display flags that correlate with specific parts of the curriculum while also providing guidelines for how and when to appropriately do so.
“What we don’t want is for the Cuban flag to be flying all year long inside of a classroom that discussed it during Hispanic heritage month, but now that flag is overpowering the American flag within that classroom,” Alonso, who often evokes his Cuban heritage, said at the board workshop last Wednesday.
CONCERNS OVER WHO WOULD DECIDE WHAT FLAGS TO FLY
But for some members, including Lucia Baez-Geller, the proposal and the potential for subjectivity about who would be deciding about what is a good flag and what is not is troubling, especially in a district that boasts International Baccalaureate and world schools, and in a time when many nonpolitical things could be deemed political.
Luisa Santos, for her part, agreed a review of the board’s policy was a good idea, but pointed to the ambiguity of the proposal and asked Alonso what definition he was operating under when referencing the flag.
“Flags can go in many different ways, but the flags I’m focused on are related to our curriculum, which will go back to our countries [and] to the history of different international countries we might display,” Alonso responded. “If what you’re alluding to is political flags that may be out there, and I’m not going to describe any of them, obviously there’s no place for anything non-neutral inside of our schools. Our schools really need to be focused on academics.”
School Board policy already requires every classroom to display a U. S. flag and the flag of the state’s motto — “In God We Trust” — in all schools and buildings used by the board. Alonso’s measure calls to review that policy, plus state and federal statutes, develop and implement a process to monitor compliance, including possibly providing schools with the resources to ensure policies can be met and, if necessary, amend policies to ensure “instructional flexibility in the display of flags in the classroom where appropriate per curriculum and in accordance with [the] Parents’ Bill of Rights.”
Alonso, who was backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, won his primary election after campaigning, in part, on more parental rights and a back-to-basics education model that emphasizes core subjects like reading, writing and civics.
He is one of three new board members on the nine-member board. The other two are Monica Colluci, whom DeSantis also endorsed and campaigned on a similar platform, and Daniel Espino, whom DeSantis appointed to replace Christi Fraga, who stepped down last month after she was locked in a runoff election for Doral mayor; the election is today, Dec. 13. Colluci beat longtime board member Marta Pérez in the Aug. 23 primary election.
The three newcomers helped solidify the board’s conservative majority.
SECOND ATTEMPT FOR FLAG ITEM
According to Alonso, the idea for the measure came after he visited classrooms and realized some did not have an American flag, despite other flags that were “unrelated to the curriculum [and] to what teachers were teaching” being displayed throughout the school. But just last month, Fraga proffered an almost identical item before she withdrew it. Prior to its withdrawal, community members and organizations argued the measure targeted marginalized groups.
Unlike Fraga’s item, Alonso’s measure includes creating a process to monitor compliance and includes language to offer instructional flexibility, such as flying a flag from another country during a lesson about it. Moreover, it includes the need to comply with the Parental Rights in Education bill, which DeSantis signed into law in March and Alonso championed frequently during his campaign. Critics have called it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as it prohibits classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
Though Alonso maintained during the workshop Wednesday the item is to ensure all schools are in compliance with the already existing board policy — “We’re not trying to create a new law,” he said — those who supported the measure last month were clear about what they hoped the new policy would accomplish.
MOMS FOR LIBERTY HELPED ON WITHDRAWN FLAG MEASURE
Moms for Liberty, who worked with Fraga to craft the item, pointed to the LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter flags, arguing they didn’t want to see them in classrooms anymore. The right-wing parents group, which often spews conspiracy theories and has been at the forefront of campaigns to reject October as LGBTQ history month and a sexual health textbook, supported Alonso during his campaign. (The board rejected the LGBTQ recognition but reversed its decision to ban the textbook, ultimately approving it, after board members raised concerns about violating state law.)
Those who opposed the measure argued at the time the effort was not about the American flag, but instead an effort to rid the district of other flags, such as the rainbow LGBTQ pride flag, from being displayed in classrooms.
For his part, during the discussion Wednesday, board member Steve Gallon III, said that while he would support any item brought forward that speaks to the opportunity and power of this country, the policy, he argued, was more complicated than how it had been presented.
When it comes to the existing board policy requiring each classroom display a flag, “you had me at hello,” Gallon told Alonso. “But I do believe there are some elements in this item that extend beyond [the policy].”