Washington State School District Unfurls Policy Giving American Flag Preference

The district is taking action that officials believe will avoid legal challenges over First Amendment rights that allow freedom of expression.
Empty School Desks in Classroom With American Flag
Photo: RODNAE Productions/Pexels

(The Center Square) – The Kennewick School Board is expected to finalize a policy in January that limits the size, number and placement of all flags but the American flag. Officials say their intent is to bring students together under the national colors and avoid undue divisiveness.

The district is taking action that officials believe will avoid legal challenges over First Amendment rights that allow freedom of expression. Instead of outright banning flags of a controversial or political nature, they have amended the district’s policy regarding flags to prohibit teachers from:

  • Displaying flags larger than the United States flag.
  • Hanging any flag higher than the U.S. flag.
  • Having more than one of the same flag.
  • Allowing flags to cover windows.

The policy changes that have received a 4-1 vote of support from the board also address how the American flag is displayed in the district’s schools. If adopted, “A U.S. flag being in good condition shall be displayed during school hours in every educational facility and classroom.”

The policy revision will make the school setting more inclusive and welcoming, board member Micah Valentine said.

“The solution to me is to remove controversial issues that evoke strong, strong emotion. Just remove those from the school so everyone can feel comfortable,” he told the Tri-City Herald. “We need to have a learning environment that’s free from distraction and free from division, and it needs to be an inclusive environment for every student.”

State law currently dictates how schools should display the national and state flag, but gives no guidance regarding other flags, such as the LGBT pride flag or a Black Lives Matter banner.  

Board member Diane Sundvik opposed changing the district’s flag policy. Also opposed were some teachers, students and parents who shared their thoughts at a recent meeting.

“The pride flag hangs in my classroom as a symbol for the acceptance that the students will find there,” Joe Ansingh, an English teacher at Southridge High School, told the board. “Parents send their children to our school, to my classroom, and those kids encounter hatred, prejudice, bullying and are made to feel like they don’t belong…The pride flag, in itself, is a simple thing but the weight it carries as a symbol to our LGBT students is paramount.”

A second and final reading on the amended flag policy is expected at the Jan. 25 board meeting.  

Revising the display of flags follows the board’s passage of a new policy that prohibits teachers from using curriculum that “indoctrinates” students in the belief that the U.S. is fundamentally or systemically racist.

History lessons, say board members, must be factual and not political in nature.

The new policy outlines that students cannot be taught that race determines their value or worth. History lessons cannot refer to “oppressors” and “victims” in terms of race.  

The board was unanimous in the decision that no students be taught that skin color determines their ability to succeed, or that they are responsible for past transgressions of people of their race. 

RaeLynn Ricarte
RaeLynn Ricarte is the author of two books and an award-winning editor and reporter with more than 25 years in the newsroom. She now covers government in Eastern Washington for The Center Square.

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