Gov. Kathy Hochul has ordered a human rights investigation of the Connetquot School District after a Connetquot High School teacher was told to take down a Progress Pride flag in her classroom, according to the governor’s office.
The incident was brought to the governor’s attention by Dr. David Kilmnick, president of the LGBT Network on Long Island, who detailed the potential Human Rights Law violation in letters to Hochul and the New York State Education Department Commissioner Betsy Rosa.
“Gov. Hochul is committed to protecting the human rights of New Yorkers, and has directed the Division of Human Rights to investigate potential violations of Human Rights Law in this matter, consistent with the agency’s mandate,” a spokesperson from the governor’s office said in a statement.
According to Kilmnick’s letters, the teacher, who is an out member of the LGBT community, was first asked to take the Progress Pride flag down from her classroom in September. The classroom is also used for Gay-Straight Alliance Club meetings, Kilmnick noted.
When the teacher did not take the flag down, she was called into the principal’s office and eventually took them down on Oct. 6, the letters say. Kilmnick argues that no other teacher had been asked to take their flags down and that the demand to remove flags was targeted. The school district has asked that all flags be removed unless they are a New York State, American, or curriculum-based flags.
“The district’s actions are a clear violation of the Dignity for All Students Act, and we look forward to an immediate investigation so that our LGBT youth, who are already bullied at higher rates, do not have to suffer one more day in the unsafe and dangerous environment that the Connetquot School District has created,” Kilmnick wrote in the letters.
The LGBT Network held a rally in protest of the order to take down Pride flags outside of Oakdale-Bohemia Middle School, where a board meeting was being held on Tuesday.
During the Connetquot Schools board meeting, members addressed the issue, explaining that students had reported feeling uncomfortable by the Progress Pride flag being displayed in the classroom. According to the district, they had asked the teacher to temporarily remove the flag during classes and to hang it up again during GSA meetings with the aim to “maintain the feeling that the classroom is a welcoming space for all, while being sensitive to the concerns raised by the students.”
The district says they also offered to hang a sign in the classroom that read, “This is a safe space to be who you are.” However, the teacher declined these offers. At that time, the district banned all types of flags unless they are New York State, American, or curriculum-related flags.
“Please be assured, it was never the district’s intention to create a perception that our schools are not safe and welcoming spaces for all. In fact, our work to implement alternative solutions is proof of the opposite,” the district said in a statement. “Our district is committed to working together to sustain a school environment that is respectful of individual personal beliefs, and remains supportive of the concerns of the school community, especially the students we are here to educate and protect.”
Officials from the state education department said they could not comment at this time.