In a remarkably spineless reaction to complaints that should have been quickly discounted, school administrators in Delano flipped then flopped over whether to allow rainbow-colored signs in schools that read, “Diverse, Inclusive, Accepting, Welcoming, Safe Space for Everyone.”
What’s to question about that message? It should have been a no-brainer to support Delano teachers after their union distributed the small posters to members. Yet after Superintendent Matthew Schoen’s office received a wave of phone calls objecting to the signs, he told teachers via e-mail that they could be violating a policy about the posting of nonschool-sponsored material.
It wasn’t an order, but it was interpreted as a thinly veiled directive to ditch the signs. Opposition to the message came from some parents in the Wright County city of 6,000 who were upset by the rainbow color scheme, apparently because it showed tolerance for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Fortunately, district administrators eventually flopped to the right side of the issue. Within 24 hours of sending the first e-mail — and following a second flood of calls supporting the signs — district officials told the union that teachers could use their discretion in deciding whether to keep the signs up.
While reiterating that educators were never ordered to remove the signs, officials also said the signs had not been preapproved by the district. “We do have a number of folks with the community that have a concern … with the rainbow representing one group of people,” Schoen told the Star Tribune.
Schoen could have saved himself a lot of trouble by simply pointing those “folks” to the district’s website, which includes a complaint form stating that the district “maintains a firm policy prohibiting all forms of discrimination. Harassment or violence against students or employees or groups of students or employees on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, familial status, status with regard to public assistance, sexual orientation, or disability is strictly prohibited. All persons are to be treated with respect and dignity.”
It’s worth noting that the shameful complaint calls came just weeks after hundreds of people turned out in Delano to support diversity after a black family’s home was burglarized and spray painted with racist graffiti. At the time, the Star Tribune Editorial Board praised the community for the strong and swift outpouring of love in the face of hate. And once again, we commend those who made the second wave of calls to the district in support of a much-needed diversity message.
In a state where local control of schools is so important, district administrators should listen to the concerns parents bring to them. But they should also have the courage to reject complaints rooted in intolerance. In this case district leaders eventually made the right decision, but they would have sent a stronger message to all students, parents and community members if they hadn’t failed their initial test of leadership on the issue.