Allow Byron Students to Advocate for Ukraine
Allow Byron Students to Advocate for Ukraine
Why this petition matters
THE PROBLEM: Last month, a teacher at Byron High School was asked to remove a Ukrainian flag students had requested be displayed in a show of support for the voices of those who are currently being silenced in a global crisis.
TAKE ACTION: Please help us by asking the Byron School Board to reconsider the removal of the Ukrainian flag from the classroom and encourage peaceful, non-disruptive, and nonpolitical discussions and activities by students in support of human rights.
PLEASE SIGN, SHARE, & SPREAD THE WORD!
Issue Background & Community Concerns
As many people are now well aware, Putin’s war on the free country of Ukraine has left the world in shock to see the devastation inflicted upon innocent civilians and the disruption of international security.
Although there is no record of a complaint made in response to the student’s display of the Ukrainian flag, district officials made the unilateral and executive decision to remove a flag and prohibit student speech on human rights. Since the initial removal of the flag, the Byron School Board and District Administration has continued to push back against community members who have repeatedly expressed concerns over this decision.
When community members expressed major concerns for this decision and requested specific policy clarification, they were met with inconsistent policy references and cited previous incidents wholly unrelated to the issue at hand. The community members putting together this petition believe that public education should foster a healthy environment for students to feel comfortable sharing their opinions and standing up for what they believe in. These members also believe that a core principle of public education is teaching youth how to become the next generation of active and engaged community members. By banning the display of the Ukrainian flag, the district has essentially told staff and students they cannot be trusted with the First Amendment rights allotted to them by the U.S. Constitution, and the responsibility to exercise them appropriately within a space designed for public education. In response to community concerns, the district has repeatedly cited its fear of retaliatory lawsuits should the Ukrainian flag be allowed in the classroom and subsequent flags asked to be put on display by students. This fear is not grounded in any prior behavior exhibited by students, staff, or community members and is a clear indication of the lack of trust the district has for the Byron community.
As a result of this decision, the Byron School District has actively politicized a humanitarian crisis instead of encouraging students to engage in valuable conversations of freedom and human rights. When community members attempted to show legal evidence of how the action taken by district officials was a violation of student and staff’s free speech rights, one official likened the human rights abuses of the indiscriminate killing of tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to district-wide mask-mandate policies. Community members feel the lack of transparency and unwillingness to have conversations related to the display of the Ukrainian flag in Byron Public School classrooms as requested by students wishing to show their support toward the humanitarian effort in Ukraine is unacceptable.
Please consider standing with the youth, parents, and teachers in our community who wish to show their support to the Ukrainian people, and the principles of freedom that founded our own country. By signing the petition, you can help us show the Byron School District that the freedom to speech and expression within the classroom is an essential component to public education and that student engagement in support of Ukraine should be celebrated, not silenced.
Supporting Legal Evidence
The first policy the district pointed to as the legal remedy for this issue was District Policy 950 on Political Activity. The Ukrainian flag was cited as a symbol of political speech, and therefore violated Policy 950, and as a result, was within the power of the district to enforce removal. However, a "political issue" as defined by district policy "is an issue that is the subject of actual or anticipated public referendum within the school district." As far these community members are aware of, there is no current or upcoming public referendum to be held in regards to the war in Ukraine. Since no public referendum or vote is anticipated within the community of Byron, Minnesota on the topic of the conflict, the Ukrainian flag cannot, under district policy, be construed as a symbol of political speech.
The district retracted its initial reference to Policy 950 two weeks later and then cited Policy 505 as the violated statute that would prompt the removal of the Ukrainian flag. Policy 505 refers to the Distribution of Non-School Sponsored Materials. This policy is meant to regulate the dissemination of non-education-related materials. As defined by the district’s policy, non-school sponsored material is defined as those which are not sponsored or authorized by the school. However, in conversations with the board, teachers, and other district staff, the district has repeatedly affirmed that the global crisis in Ukraine is absolutely relevant educational material and that conversations are always encouraged in the classroom on the subject. By the district's own admission, on multiple occurrences, Community members are of the understanding that the district fully regards educational material in the form of the flag of a sovereign country, as school-sponsored material. The board's admission of such demonstrates a lack of understanding by officials of their own policies referenced to "for fear of litigation" as has been repeatedly cited as the reason behind the board’s actions.