If one thing doesn’t change, it’s the ability of conservatives to become enraged at the slightest bit of LGBTQ+ pride or acceptance. Sure, it’s a global pandemic and we’re facing climate-related disasters on what feels like on a regular basis, but the really concerning issue is how many young people connect with the Pride flag and dare show the slightest bit of skepticism or questioning when it comes to the patriotism drilled into most of us from the time we enter the public school system.
A teacher in California has been removed from her classroom after she shared in a now-viral TikTok video that she jokingly suggested her students could pledge allegiance to the Pride flag instead of the American flag. The high school teacher, identified as Kristen Pitzen, has been placed on administrative leave while the Newport-Mesa Unified School District investigates. What’s the big deal? According to the district’s statement as shared on Facebook, "Showing respect for our nation's flag is an important value that we instill in our students and an expectation of our employees." The fact that the deleted video made major circles in the world of conservative hysteria probably helped that along, too.
"Okay, so during third period, we have announcements and they do the pledge of allegiance. I always tell my class, stand if you feel like it, don’t stand if you feel like it, say the words if you want, you don’t have to say the words….My class decided to stand but not say the words," Pitzen said in the original video, which spanned about one minute. "Totally fine, except for the fact that my room does not have a flag. It used to be there, but I took it down during COVID because it made me uncomfortable. I packed it away... and I don't know where, and I haven't found it yet."
The high school English teacher added that a student pointed out that it’s a little weird for them to stand and pledge to… nothing. So she told viewers she promised to find the flag she’d packed away but jokingly told the student there was in fact a flag they could use. The student reportedly pointed to the Pride flag, and the video wraps up with the teacher laughing and revealing it hanging on the wall.
A spokesperson for the district talked to NBC News about the district’s policy regarding flags. The district requires each school to hold daily “patriotic exercises,” which may include reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as lessons about concepts related to the pledge—like the word republic or patriotism—and pride in the United States. The policy allows people not to participate in the flag salute for “personal reasons” and does not explicitly mention the flag needing to be displayed in each teacher’s individual classroom.
As reported by Newsweek, Pitzen once shared a video of her classroom decorated for Pride Month with a number of flags, in which she said she pledges “allegiance to the queers.” She added that she loves people who are out, who aren’t out, and appreciates and supports them. “I got you,” she said in the now-deleted video.
The pandemic has changed life for everyone, including young people. Whether families are sending students to the in-person classroom, remaining virtual, homeschooling, or attempting a hybrid model, teachers and staff are under an intense amount of pressure. That’s even before we consider COVID-19 and the various debates—and actual violence—that’s already broken out when it comes to mask-wearing. Students deserve and need a safe space, and we could all use a little more intellectual and emotional generosity with one another.
You can watch a clip of local coverage below, which includes several community members, including a self-described “military mom,” angry at the teacher’s video who came to the school’s campus to put American flags by the entrance.