School superintendent Chieco explains LGBTQ flag controversy
The Hammonton Board of Education addressed a controversy regarding hanging the LGBTQ Pride flag in classrooms at its July 13 meeting.
The discussion followed an article published by The Press of Atlantic City on July 1 that said local activists raised concern about possible classroom flag restrictions.
Hammonton Public Schools Superintendent Robin Chieco Chieco said The Press’s article and social media posts surrounding the Pride flag controversy, were “mischaracterized internal instructions that were discussed administratively.”
An email was sent to district staff in error and Chieco sent a clarification email to the middle and high school staff members, but not to the public, on June 12. Chieco shared the clarification email at the BOE meeting to provide accurate information regarding the issue.
Chieco read that as per statute, all public school classrooms must display the American flag and students must recite the pledge of allegiance. The email received was not meant for staff, but for administrative purposes to determine what classrooms had non-curricular items displayed, clarifying that it was not aimed directly at Pride Month.
“As a public institution, schools shall acknowledge the various months of recognition: Black History, Women’s History, Hispanic Heritage, Pride, etc.,” Chieco said. “Just as you would display relevant information on these designated months within your classroom, Pride Month should be given the same consideration. We all know that our student population is very diverse and we want to maintain objectivity beneath their seating.”
Chieco also stated that the BOE is dedicated to providing a well-rounded education to students and that expectations are made to all through policy, making sure all students are well-represented and respected.
Chieco concluded by stating that HPS does promote diversity and inclusion by displays on the media centers, building entrances, common areas and classrooms. The schools recognize the various contributions made representative of the months of recognition as well as celebrating cultural diversity.
In other matters, Chieco said resolutions on the agenda for in-school therapeutic program services for grades Pre-K through 5 were approved. This will provide students intensive counseling, testing and therapy sessions that may need additional support, she said.
“As we’ve noticed over the past few years, many of our younger students are experiencing difficulties adapting to classroom expectations and functioning within a school setting,” Chieco said.
“These clinicians will provide early check-ins as well as individualized counseling through a system of overcoming difficulties.
“We are hopeful that with the additional interventions, these students will be successful in the classroom and will require best assistance as they mature.”
The meeting was then open for public comment. Many on both sides of the LGBTQ flag controversy addressed the board during the final public comment. Atlantic County Queer Alliance Director Mico Lucide addressed the board first, thanking Chieco for reading the clarification but felt he needed to make a statement at the meeting, given the concerns addressed to him.
Lucide acknowledged his understanding of the error and the intent to display the relevance of displaying flags and symbols for various months of recognition. Lucide then acknowledged a joint statement made by both the New Jersey Attorney General’s office and New Jersey Department of Education regarding any policies that could negatively impact protected classes, regardless of intent, and asked the board to reach out to outside organizations for decision-making in policies. Lucide also acknowledged the difficulties that the jobs of the BOE and administration have in enforcing these policies and decisions.
Christine Scola spoke in support of the board’s decision regarding the flag policy. Scola stated that the American flag embodies patriotism and represents all of the nation’s citizens.
Scola stated that the reason she only wants the American flag displayed has nothing to do with discrediting any other flag that others believe in and support, but to represent everyone, regardless of race, culture and gender.
“It should be the goal of everyone to eliminate disruption for what our children are there for and that’s education. For the BOE members who have this goal, I commend you, I will continue to support you, please keep doing an outstanding job,” Scola said.
Heather Warburton then spoke in support of LGBTQ people and that it is not a political opinion nor a regular opinion, stating that it’s a fact.
Warburton spoke of how diversity makes the community great and that “honoring and celebrating the diversity is what makes us better.”
Resolutions 1-46 for finance, 47-80 for personnel and 81-91 for programs/students/miscellaneous were all approved by the board.
The meeting was then adjourned. The next meeting will be on August 24 at 7 p.m.