Just like March, April was heavy with conflicts revolving around guns, as the debate spurred by the Parkland shooting continued. But seemingly eternal hot-spots including Confederate flag displays, prayer in schools, and sex ed flared up, too.
- Guns: We recorded seven gun-related incidents, most pitting freedom of expression against safety or beliefs about the appropriateness of gun-related messages. Allegations of curbed speech included the Shawnee Mission, KS, school district telling students what they could or could not say at their April 20 walkout to protest gun violence. Students in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Nevada alleged that their pro-gun expression was curbed in various ways. A principal’s pro-gun comments in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC, led to possible disciplinary action against her and prompted Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) to write a letter to the U.S. Department of Education asking if other districts had seen an employee’s speech bring out the “thought police.” A North Carolina state legislator made a moral plea for arming teachers, saying, “We should give them a fighting chance. Otherwise, when they die, and children die whom they could have defended, their blood will be on our hands.” Finally, Kyle Kashuv, a Parkland survivor who has defended gun rights, was repeatedly in the news for actions school personnel allegedly took against him.
- Confederate Flags: Overall the Map contains 34 conflicts involving displays of Confederate flags, and two new ones were added in April, both revolving around displays on trucks in school parking lots. In Bay City, Michigan, accusations that an African-American student ripped a flag off a truck and the school did nothing about it prompted both pro-flag and Black Lives Matter demonstrations that closed the high school for a day. In Cleveland County, NC, students were suspended for flying Confederate flags. District officials, reacting to widespread displeasure over stories that flag displays were banned, said that it was fine to fly American flags, just not Confederate.
- Sex Education: Sexuality has so many moral, religious, and safety ramifications, it’s no wonder it is constantly inflaming conflict. Indeed, I still need to read the book (it’s actually been a busy several years, not just month) but scorching disagreement over sex ed is an international phenomenon. April saw a national, coordinated effort to get parents to remove their kids from school to protest overly explicit sex education—dubbed the “Sex Ed Sit Out”—no doubt patterned after the Parkland gun walkout. Meanwhile a bill was introduced in Louisiana to go in the opposite direction, moving away from abstinence-only sex education.
- Religion: Sex ed elicits a lot of religious concerns, but more directly religious expression and activities also spurred battles in April, as religion has done from the very beginning of public schooling. A bill was introduced in the Louisiana Senate to allow teachers to pray with students during the school day as long it doesn’t interfere with teaching. The Freedom from Religion Foundation warned that the legislation “would encourage teachers to show their students that they prefer and endorse Christianity, ostracizing non-Christian students.” Meanwhile, a teacher in Mobile, AL, was sent home after wearing a t-shirt that said “Just Pray.” Wrote teacher Chris Burrell in a since-deleted Facebook post, “I wasn’t trying to promote religion, it was just my Monday feel-good shirt.” Finally, Worcester, Maryland, saw people (ironically) getting angry over “Mindfulness” yoga, which some residents thought was putting Hindu spiritual activities into the schools, not just promoting good social and emotional health.
There were other conflicts in “the cruelest month,” of course—big headline grabbers involved a racially charged “promposal,” flowers for a gay teacher, and ordered use of Band-Aids—and we also asked a poll question on our Facebook page: “Should parents have the right to keep their child home to protest sex education?” The overwhelming response—95 to 5 percent—was “yes.” Right now we’re asking if it is acceptable for a teacher to pull a student’s hair, presumably in jest, to wake him up. Vote now, and we’ll report the results next month—hopefully towards the beginning of the month.