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Attorney says lawsuit possible over LGBT flag at MMS

At a second packed school board meeting, both Marshall residents and an attorney called for more neutrality in a flag display at MMS

Photo by Deb Gau Another packed crowd attended a meeting of the Marshall School Board to speak out both for and against an LGBT pride flag that was hung up in the Marshall Middle School cafeteria this winter.

MARSHALL — Controversy over a rainbow flag in the Marshall Middle School cafeteria continued at Tuesday’s school board meeting, with another packed gallery and around 30 people getting up to speak during a public forum period. However, this time the discussion also came with the possibility of a lawsuit against the school district.

Minneapolis-based attorney Bill Mohrman, one of the speakers at the public forum, said he represented a group of people concerned that the Marshall School District did not have a policy in place to prevent displays at the schools from favoring one viewpoint over another.

Several speakers said displaying the rainbow flag, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride, while denying other flags, showed preferential treatment.

“They need to have a policy in place,” Mohrman said to reporters after the forum. Mohrman said it appeared the LGBT flag had been put up at the MMS principal’s sole discretion instead. “Our hope is … for the school board to vote to have an attorney develop some viewpoint neutral policy,” he said.

If not, Mohrman said, there may be a lawsuit against the school.

During the forum, an eighth-grade student at MMS said the school was stopping expression of opposing views on the flag. The student said he had a petition taken away by school staff, and when some students put other flags representing themselves on their lockers, they were taken down by a teacher.

The student didn’t describe what the other flags were during the forum. But Mohrman later said he understood the flags included a design with symbols of a father, mother and child, and the Gadsden flag, a historical American flag known for the “Don’t Tread On Me” slogan.

Marshall Superintendent Scott Monson told the Independent that he had not heard of the situation with the petition and other flags before Tuesday’s meeting. Monson also said because the possibility of litigation against the school was raised, that he would need to consult the school district’s legal representation before making any comments.

Monson said it would be up to the school board to decide whether they would take any action regarding the rainbow flag.

Mohrman was not the only person at the forum to call for a “viewpoint neutral” approach to the flag display hanging in the middle school cafeteria. The Rev. Don LeClere, pastor at the Marshall Evangelical Free Church, said a public school should not show preference to one viewpoint, lifestyle or religion over another.

“The debate in our midst tonight is proof enough that this is, in fact a contested issue. There are two sides to this issue,” LeClere said. “We are not haters nor are we against individuals in the LGBTQ plus community. But you can also truly love an individual and hold a different viewpoint from them.”

In order to remain viewpoint neutral, he said, “Either erect other lifestyle flags, like the two we submitted, to represent all students, or remove the one lifestyle flag, choosing to remain viewpoint neutral and truly communicating a concern for all students.”

Some speakers said the flag display, which includes the LGBT flag as well as the U.S. flag and a variety of international flags, was divisive. Others said hanging the LGBT flag at the school supported one group’s beliefs at the expense of others.

Mohammed Ahmed said there were a number of parents upset by the flag.

“We want to make clear we are not against any group,” Ahmed said. But, he said, “As parents, we have the right to educate our own children about sexuality.”

Other speakers emphasized that being LGBT was an identity, not the same thing as having a religious or political belief.

“It’s not a lifestyle flag,” said the Rev. Anne Veldhuisen, pastor at Christ United Presbyterian Church in Marshall.

Marshall teacher Karrie Alberts urged community members to remember the impact their words would have on students.

“I want them to know they are OK, they are supported,” Alberts said. “Quit equating their identity to something controversial.”

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