UNION COUNTY, N.C. — Union County's Board of Education will vote soon on a new policy critics say would further alienate LGBTQ+ students and staff in the county’s public schools.
Supporters of the proposed policy revision say it would, instead, help keep the classroom focus on curriculum and not social issues.
The proposed change would impact policy 5-01, Selection of Instructional Materials. You can read the proposed document, here.
The proposed revision adds the following language to the policy, “Classroom displays shall be limited to materials which represent the United States, the State of North Carolina, the school name and mascot, and/or are related to tie directly to the curriculum.”
It is unclear if the policy would prohibit classroom displays of the pride flag, and other inclusive imagery, which is leaving some parents on edge.
At early April’s regular school board meeting, mom Regan Shaw asked the board directly.
“OK, I’ve got a simple one. Does the proposed change in the classroom display policy, ban the pride flag from being displayed?” Shaw asked.
Waiting silently with her hands behind her back, Shaw waited for for her entire three-minute public comment time and did not receive a direct answer.
“It’s a very simple question that deserves an answer,” Shaw said to applause when her three minutes was up.
It appeared, according to video from the meeting, board member Gary Sides was prepared to answer her. However, board chair Kathy Heintel asked him not to speak, and repeated board policy not to reply to public commenters. When Shaw was done speaking, Heintel reiterated the policy.
“I’m going to repeat myself again. The board will not respond to public comments,” Heintel said in reply to Shaw’s question.
You can watch the exchange here, which begins at the 15:30 mark.
Since the meeting, Shaw told Spectrum News 1 she has privately and publicly asked numerous board members to tell her directly if displays like the pride flag would be banned under the revision. She claims the board has not directly answered.
Instead, Shaw alleges there is a private battle, behind the scenes explained to her through email, between Union County school board’s elected officials and UCPS administration, making it difficult to get answers with both sides urging Shaw to ask the other how the policy would be implemented.
Speaking to Spectrum News 1, Shaw said she is concerned the policy revision is an attempt to further alienate and erase LGBTQ students from Union County.
“We were concerned that they were trying to target the LGBTQ community in UCPS, by going after symbols of inclusion,” Shaw said.
Additionally, Shaw alleged some board members have used anti-LGBTQ statements in the past while discussing this policy.
“Why would we be trying to take down signs that reduce bullying? It doesn’t make much sense,” Shaw said. “And we want our questions answered, as to what they’re trying to do, and they are not answering our questions. That is very un-democratic.”
The policy would also make changes to how instructional materials, like books, are selected, saying books which are sexually explicit or graphic, would not be allowed.
The proposed revision is in bold and italicized: “The following principles will be used to govern selection of core instructional materials, supplemental materials, and media collection materials: a. the material’s overall purpose, educational significance, age appropriateness as to both reading level and content. Content that would be considered inappropriate , [including] but not limited to sexually explicit or graphic materials.”
However, Shaw says she and other parents allege the revision is a front, aiming to instead ban any books which mention LGBTQ characters.
“There are currently books being taken off the shelves in Union County libraries that do not seem to have any other reason why they were taken out, except for the fact that they have an LGBTQ character. We are trying to establish why they’re doing this, and they’re not answering our questions,” Shaw alleged.
Proposed revisions to the policy also appear to make it easier to get a book removed, as once it is removed at one school for one grade level, it would be removed across all UCPS schools for the same age and grade level.
The revised section states, “If the District Review Committee determines that the item(s) in question is inappropriate for an grade age level and should be removed from the school, it will also be removed from any other school at that grade age level and below where the material has been identified.”
In the board’s April 18 policy committee meeting, the revised policy 5-01 was approved 3-1 and will now be sent to the full board on May 2. Board members Sides, Heintel and Jimmy Bention voted in favor. John Kirkpatrick was the one vote against.
Meanwhile, the policy revision is popular with other Union County residents and parents.
“Union County Public Schools must provide students with a neutral learning environment. Free from political biases, identity politics and social justice issues. Identity politics has no place in our educational system,” said Abigail Prado at the same April board meeting when Shaw spoke.
“Students should not be influenced by the political beliefs of their educators,” Prado continued.
Other speakers were in favor at the April 4 meeting, including the local chapter chair of Moms for Liberty, Britney Bouldin.
“Moms for Liberty Union County believes that all children have the right to an education that is free from divisive politics and indoctrination,” Bouldin said. “We appreciate the UCPS board taking measures to prioritize learning.”
Bouldin and other parents in favor of the policy begin speaking at 28:45 in the video you can watch here.
Together, the supporters argued the policy helps maintain focus specifically on education, removing the potential influence of a teacher’s politics, and not separating students into groups.
In a virtual press conference earlier this month, Union County student and LGBTQ community member Sydney Satalino said she started a petition to criticize the proposed policy change.
“It is very disheartening to see this hysteria sweep the government. Because, there is like so many other issues they could be focusing on, like actually making our lives better. Instead of spending time making laws that could hurt our communities,” Satalino said.
Satalino said she is a senior, and will likely not see the consequences of the board’s vote before she leaves school. However, she said she was speaking up for other students, whom she will leave behind after graduation.
“The board and the county don’t want to speak to me and work to make this policy less harmful to my community,” Satalino alleged on the virtual press call. “Enough is enough,” she added.
“They claim to protect all students,” she said. “They’re failing at their mission. They cannot protect all students without protecting their queer students, the closeted students, the students that might not have an affirming home to go to,” Satalino continued.
Both Satalino and Shaw allege the board began consideration of the policy change after the board saw social media posts of a pride flag on display at a UCPS high school.
In her interview, Shaw said she is trying to protect kids who are different.
“It’s not political to want books in the library that reflect your child’s experience in the world. Why would we want to silence LGBTQ stories? The year is 2023, we should not allow that type of hatred of others,” Shaw said.
In recent weeks, Spectrum News 1 asked board chair Heintel and vice chair Bention to answer questions about the policy or provide comment on its potential approval.
In an email response Friday, Bention wrote, “If any student has concerns those concerns will be addressed.”
Heintel did not reply.