An Alabama school has become the latest battleground over free speech: Last week, students and parents launched a Change.org petition to take down a rainbow flag hanging outside a teacher’s classroom.
The petition, directed at Auburn High School principal Shannon Pignato, claims that the flag outside social studies teacher’s Donna Yeager room “creates a hostile and provocative learning environment for students not comfortable to openly supporting the LGBTQ+ community in a public school where students come from diverse political and religious backgrounds.”
The flag was first displayed for the E.D.U.C.A.T.E. club, which promotes inclusiveness and diversity, during a campus organization fair. (Yeager is the group’s faculty advisor.) The petitioners argue that it’s a “polarizing” symbol that keeps students from reaching their “full potential.”
They also compare the rainbow flag to other incendiary flags: “Consider the uproar and chaos that would ensue were a teacher to hang for example a Confederate, Christian, or Heterosexual Flag in their classroom.”
So far, their petition has garnered 2,587 supporters.
A counter-petition stands by Yeager’s choice to hang the rainbow flag. “In the real world,” it reads, “to suggest individuals be isolated from differing political views is an absurdity… the sentiment for removing the Pride flag is an affront to the work that has been done nationally to fight for recognition of the community.”
The counter-petition now has 7,145 signatures.
The fate of the flag isn’t up for public debate, though—it rests in the hands of school administrators. Neither Yeager nor Pignato has commented on the situation, but superintendent Karen DeLano insisted that the staff is working on a resolution.
“In our country today, people are often seen addressing their objections through violence and hate,” she said in a statement. “It is my sincere desire to assist our students in learning to address their opinions and their values in a calm and respectful manner. This differing of opinions related to the E.D.U.C.A.T.E Club at Auburn High School affords our faculty and students an opportunity to learn and model a civil manner in which to resolve our differences.”