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Substitute Teacher Removes Pride and Palestinian Flags

Editor’s Note: The names of the teachers in this story have been omitted and are referred to as the substitute and the classroom teacher.
Domenica Peloso
With political tensions at an all-time high, flags have become a hot-button topic — especially in classroom settings. A recent demonstration regarding a teacher’s Pride and Palestinian flags has made several community members wonder: Are certain flags truly an affront to American values?

When the classroom teacher tore his ACL, a long-term substitute teacher was hired in preparation for his seven week medical leave of absence. On February 27, 2024, after just two weeks in the classroom, the substitute made a demonstration in which she removed the classroom teacher’s Pride and Palestinian flags.

Minutes before the substitute’s second period class ended, she asked for her students’ undivided attention. She informed them it would be her last day teaching and she had something important to say. 

With the U.S. Flag Code projected onto the whiteboard, the substitute explained to the students why it was disrespectful for the classroom teacher to have his Pride and Palestinian flags higher than the U.S. flag. 

According to section seven of the code, “No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America” and “No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, the flag of the United States.”

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Although the Pride and Palestinian flags were both larger and flown higher than the American flag, the substitute left the classroom teacher’s California Republic flag completely untouched — a flag that is the same size and relative position as his Pride and Palestinian flags. 

“I can stake my professional reputation on the fact that if that was a French flag, or Israeli flag, or German flag, that no one would say a word. I also would like to mention that all of this was happening during Unity Week and there were flags all over campus,” said the classroom teacher, who spoke with The Express on condition of anonymity because of concerns about his future career opportunities.

I am actually quite heartbroken because a lot of my students will go on to do incredible things, and so I really need them to know what it means to be anti-racist, tolerant and accepting, and to stand up for social justice.

— The classroom teacher

In addition to her speech about the U.S. Flag Code, the substitute became emotional when she spoke about her father who fought in the Vietnam War.

“I understand being patriotic, and I feel sympathy for both her and her father because many people went through a lot in the Vietnam War, but I don’t think that she had the right to mess with our teacher’s property,” said Elliot Ruvalcaba (11), a student who witnessed the substitute’s demonstration first hand.

After the substitute removed the classroom teacher’s flags, three students went up to thank her. 

“I understand why she did it like with her dad and stuff like I respect it. I mean, I don’t know if it was really that good of a choice I mean I guess she already knew it was her last day but I do think that like taking down someone else’s flag is kind of bold. But, I do respect her choice,” said Dean Kolasinski (10), a student who thanked the substitute. 

Later, the substitute put the flags back up and repeated the demonstration in front of her fourth period class. 

The substitute’s strong adherence to section seven of the U.S. Flag Code is only a fraction of the code’s many rules. For example, having the American flag printed on articles of clothing or cars violates section eight of the code. In fact, the widely-used “Blue Lives Matter” flag also violates section eight due to its alteration of the flag’s original colors. Graphic by Domenica Peloso

The timeline of the substitute and the classroom teacher started in early February, when the two met in-person to discuss the lesson plan for the next seven weeks. 

“When I first met her she showed a clear obsession with textbooks — claiming that the students don’t read enough and that they have no attention spans because of TikTok. From the outset, she seemed to have a fundamental distrust of teenagers,” said the classroom teacher.

After this off-putting first impression, the classroom teacher made an effort to warn his students of the substitute’s possibly erratic behavior.

“I knew from the start that my LGBT students may not receive the same treatment if I were in the classroom versus her,” said the classroom teacher.

In just two weeks, the classroom teacher received several emails from students complaining about the substitute denying them bathroom privileges, unnecessary zeros being handed out, policing student’s posture and elbows on the table, and even reprimanding students for saying, “Oh my God.”

“At least three students emailed me saying that they openly felt racially profiled,” said the classroom teacher.

One of the biggest complaints came from the substitute’s sixth period class after they were locked inside the classroom for over ten minutes after school. 

“She left all students in the classroom unattended and locked us in there using [a supervisor’s] body,” said Luke Mahar (12) in a student statement form he filed with administration. 

In addition to the substitute making students immensely uncomfortable, she was intentionally aberrating from the lesson plan.

Rather than following the classroom teacher’s department-approved lesson plan, the substitute would find her own content to teach — content that was at times completely unrelated to the class’s curriculum, according to the classroom teacher. 

I actually am a proud American, I am a patriot, and I think one of the things that patriots are supposed to do is say ‘we can do better.’ But if putting up an LGBT flag — yet never even talking about it, just putting it up — is such an affront, that speaks for itself.

— The classroom teacher

“At the time we were learning about forces, and she decided to show a video about the benefits of spirulina,” said the classroom teacher. 

After just two weeks, the classroom teacher took matters into his own hands and contacted administration regarding his concerns.

“I want to make this clear, I don’t think that this is an administrative issue because when I called and voiced my concerns they responded quickly,” said the classroom teacher.

The substitute’s current employment status cannot be independently verified because Human Resources is not at liberty to discuss internal matters. 

With the recent Pride at the Pier movement in Huntington Beach and continued Israel-Palestine protests throughout the world, this situation comes at a very inflammatory moment in time for both Palestinians and members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“To me, what this incident really reflects is that all the work I do and all the safety I provide for my students of color or my LGBT students can all be torn down, and that’s what terrifies me,” said the classroom teacher. 

Multiple attempts by The Express to contact the substitute were not answered.

This story was originally published on The Express on May 24, 2024.