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Waukesha public school teacher suspended for displaying a Pride Progress flag in her classroom

Sarah Whaley
Pride Progress Flag that hung in Whaley's classroom
Sarah Whaley is a kindergarten special education teacher at Summit View Elementary.
Sarah Whaley
Portrait of Sarah Whaley

School classrooms are often filled with colorful decorations — from educational, to supportive and motivational. For Summit View Elementary kindergarten special education teacher Sarah Whaley, one of her classroom decorations was the LGBTQ Pride Progress flag.

Whaley says she put the flag up in her classroom during staff training before the academic school year even began.

"I think that visual representations like the Progress Pride flag are so important for creating a welcoming environment for all of our students," she says. "In kindergarten, in any classroom, it's so important to show kids that they can be their true selves and that they're welcome."

In October of 2021, the Waukesha School District asked her to take the flag down, citing a policy concerning controversial issues in the classroom. When Whaley repeatedly refused to do so, she was suspended for a day without pay and the flag was taken out of her classroom while she was away.

The directive that the district has been citing was enacted on Aug. 20, 2021, and bans certain signs that contain content related to Black Lives Matter and Back the Blue.

"They continue to site that directive as their basis for my insubordination, but that directive does not mention LGBTQI+ materials, which I continue to state as one of the reasons that I should be allowed to have that flag up," notes Whaley.

She also says the Waukesha district's school mission statement cites diversity as its strength. It also includes policies around anti-bullying and discrimination against race or sexual orientation, which Whaley believes this sign ban is doing.

People in the local teaching community and beyond have shown their solidarity with Whaley following this incident. On Dec. 17, students, faculty, and community members dressed up in rainbows following the incident. They then posted the pictures to social media with the hashtag #Rainbowsforsarah to show solidarity with Whaley.

"I think some teachers are very upset by this. I think some are feeling like it's another thing in a very hard year for everyone, including teachers," says Whaley.

After the district removed her flag, they've taken an additional three more flags from her classroom down as well as materials in other teachers classrooms throughout the district according to Whaley. Now students, teachers, and community members are working hard to overturn the flag ban — especially since the school district isn't doing an equity initiative this year, says Whaley.

"I've told them, students' identities, people's identities aren't controversial... you get to show up in school as your true self, and nothing is controversial about that. Nothing is political about that, especially in a public school," says Whaley.

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Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.
Kobe Brown is WUWM's Eric Von fellow.
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