Superintendent calls ban on Pride flags at Sunol school 'disheartening'

Trustees of Sunol Glen Unified School District, which oversees a single school, Sunol Glen School -- adopted a policy Tuesday that won't allow Pride or inclusivity flags on its official flagpole.

The vote came after hours of accusations, gavel-banging, and vehement arguing from both sides that eventually forced deputies to clear the room so the board could vote.

The district's new policy specifically refers to California law requiring public school to fly the U.S. flag and the state flag. It points out the law doesn't require any other flags to be flown and says the district "desires to display only those flags required by law."

It didn't seem that way at the meeting, where people shouted over each other, the district superintendent openly clashed with the president of the school board, and the public frequently laughed at and ripped into each other's opinions.

Superintendent and school principal Molleen Barnes argued in her agendized report to the board for more inclusiveness and consideration for the feelings of LGBTQ students who frequently experience depression and even die by suicide.

When Barnes tried to include pro-flag teachers in her report, board president Ryan Jurgensen shut her down, saying they could speak during the public comment section.

"On behalf of the staff, I feel very disrespected," Barnes said, after a few minutes of loud back-and-forth.

Board member Ted Romo, who frequently argued with the two other board members, was the only vote against the resolution. Linda Hurley joined Jurgensen in voting for the resolution.


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Proponents argued the American flag already signifies inclusivity and that if the school flies a Pride flag, it would have to fly flags for other groups.

Opponents threatened a recall effort of board members and accused the district of putting children at risk. They also said the board was violating its own 2021 resolution which said, among other things, the district "strives to be a shining example of inclusiveness and diversity."

Jurgensen said he endorsed equity and fair treatment for all students, "but my concern is when a school starts endorsing any particular view that can be divisive."

Some members of the public attacked Barnes for arguing with the board, while the vehemence of one speaker and the reaction from the crowd eventually prompted deputies to clear the room right before the vote.

Hurley said she sympathized with opponents, and it was an "emotional" decision. But she said the one-school district doesn't have the luxury of bigger districts in opening itself to legal action if it flew the Pride flag.

"One lawsuit could bring this school down," Hurley said.

Romo, who said he's an attorney, said there's plenty of legal precedent allowing government entities to fly non-governmental flags, as long as they fly the flag the law requires.

"You can't tell the government what to fly," Romo said.

Diana Rohini LaVigne, a parent who leads a volunteer group called Sunol Glen 4 All, said Wednesday that Pride flags were hung on school fences during Pride Month (June) for years without issues.

"This year, it was stolen from the fence. So the staff put it up on the pole, as code permits," she said. "This suddenly started the conservative board members to drum up a resolution to prevent that. We were willing to restrict Pride flags to off the flagpole but even that compromise wasn't acceptable."