Officials at Gardiner Area High School have implemented a temporary policy banning the display of all flags on school grounds — aside from the American flag — following a recent clash between students putting up LGBTQ+ flags and those hanging Trump flags, according to reporting from WGME.
School officials say the incident that sparked the ban was when students put up and removed flags inside the school with competing political and social messages.
School leaders say the incident led to students picking sides and even what the superintendent described as a heated altercation.
Some are upset about how the school ultimately handled the situation, highlighting concerns over freedom of speech on school grounds.
Student Faith Morton says one of those flags represented the LGBTQ+ community and the other was a Trump flag.
Morton says students should be able to express themselves and is disappointed in the way the school handled the situation.
“It was not the right way. It really wasn’t. And there should be people who say that it’s not okay,” Morton said.
Officials have defended their decision, citing the need to ensure students’ safety.
In an email to CBS13, MSAD 11 Superintendent Patricia Hopkins said:
“I am disappointed that this situation transpired, necessitating this temporary policy change. However, this new restriction is necessary in order to protect student safety, which will always be my, and MSAD 11’s, top priority.”
Hopkins also directly addressed concerns regarding free speech, stating that the new policy will not inhibit students’ ability to express their political views while at school.
Superintendent Hopkins also said in the email that students are welcome to express themselves on political matters at school as long as it does not disrupt school operations or infringe on the rights of other students.
Controversy surrounding the display of flags containing political and social messaging in schools is neither new nor unique to Maine.
Similarly, students nationwide are expressing concerns about, and pushing the boundaries of, free speech on school grounds.
Although many Mainers have expressed concern about politics infiltrating public school classrooms in the state, it remains to be seen whether students’ political speech will eventually find itself under the microscope in other districts or if this incident will prove to be an anomaly.