PENDLETON, Ind. — Students at Pendleton Heights High School are standing up after three teachers were told to take LGBTQ+ pride flags out of their classrooms.
According to our partners at the Herald Bulletin, the rainbow flags were removed from the classrooms of Spanish, business and art teachers. A Pendleton Heights student said the flags had been up since at least last year, though junior Bryce Axel-Adams told 13News the flags had been up for about three years.
“To me, I have supportive parents - a lot of my peers don’t - to me that sign was, you know, a sign of hope, a sign of 'Oh, they care about me, I’m valid.' Because a lot of times, school is the only safe place we have,” Wills said.
Parents told 13News the Spanish teacher had taken his flag down earlier, but it is not known why.
Pendleton Heights Principal Connie Rickert released a statement to 13News saying the school prides itself on creating a welcoming environment for all and that the district doesn't tolerate harassment or discrimination.
“Teachers are legally obligated to maintain viewpoint neutrality during their official duties to ensure all students can focus on learning, and we can maintain educational activities and school operations,” she said. “Our counselors are trained to respond to any student who desires support.”
Axel-Adams started a petition on Change.org on Sunday that collected more than 3,500 signatures by Thursday evening, in time for it to be presented at the district's board meeting on Thursday.
He posted on Change.org that school administrators said the flags were taken down to avoid a potential discrimination lawsuit, not for political reasons.
Tai Wills, a 16-year-old sophomore at Pendleton Heights who has been learning virtually this year, told the Herald Bulletin she worried about the mental wellbeing of her classmates. Two years ago, the district experienced a rash of suicides and suicide attempts across all grade levels, the newspaper reported.
Some of those reports involved LGBTQ+ students.
Wills said a lot of her peers at the school are "very judgemental."
“They call us (expletive) and harass us 24/7,” she said.
Axel-Adams said he’s aware many students have had negative experiences similar to Wills, but that he’s always felt welcomed at the high school and that this is the first time he felt that “kind of slipping away.”
“It’s already hard dealing with bullying and judgmental kids, and now you can’t even have a flag saying, ‘We support you in the classroom,’” Wills said.
“It’s like they’re silently saying your mental health is not our problem."
Wills said Axel-Adams' petition and the overwhelming support it has received impressed her.
“I think it says that some of the community and the students actually care and fight for what they believe in,” she said.
(Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the principal did not also send the statement to parents and to correct one of the teachers and classes involved.)