Millard Misunderstanding

Pre-winter break, MN administration faced heavy backlash for misunderstandings regarding classroom inclusivity

Olivia Torrez, Co-Editor-in-Chief

On Dec. 5, 2022, Millard superintendent John Schwartz released a statement regarding the recent misunderstandings of inclusivity and pride flags in the classroom. 

“This is a two-pronged situation– two things that were not related that intertwined and created some concern,” Rebecca Kleeman, Director of Communications for MPS, said.

Within a month of each other, Millard both removed a classroom display that had happened to contain a pride flag at the advice of their legal team, and gave staff a routine reminder about what can and cannot be brought into classrooms, causing discordance across MN.

Bearinger and Kleeman made one thing explicitly clear: there is no policy in place that bans any sort of pride flag from classrooms. This originated from a misunderstanding with an existing advertisement policy, specifically the 1115 advertising policy.

“There’s no new policy or rule change about any of that. This was a process of reminding staff of what can and cannot be brought into classrooms. But that said, there is nothing that says that you cannot show [support], in fact, we want to show support for everyone,” Kleeman said.

Rumors of the policy circulating the building in early December led to numerous concerned students reaching out to Bearinger, such as junior Scar Connor.

“I talked to my teachers and they were all under the impression that they couldn’t have pride flags, so I went to Bearinger with it, because obviously I was upset about that because he’s taking away the inclusivity and classrooms by not allowing us to have advocacy groups that advocate for LGBTQ rights,” Connor said. 

Connor was dissatisfied with Bearinger’s response to the situation.

“He didn’t clarify much. I brought up the pride flag thing, he said he never said anything about that. But I’m still confused how if he never said anything about that, how all the teachers were under the impression they couldn’t have them,” Connor said.

With a lack of direct response from Bearinger’s office, Connor decided to take her concerns to both the news and to a Nebraska State Senator.

“It’s important because you need to know that you have a safe space where you’re able to be yourself and not be judged for that or discriminated against for that,” Connor said. “I think it definitely caused a lot of people to feel not as welcome as they were not as accepted, just in general.”

Bearinger recognized the negative effects it has had on the general student population.

“Because of the misinformation that is out there, it has caused a disruption to our building, it’s causing disruption to our students,” Bearinger said.

Not all students share Connor’s opinions, however. The head of the Sexuality and Gender Acceptance, SAGA, junior Fynch Vanderpool, reached out to guidance counselor Paul Gablel to talk to the club in the week before winter break. Bearinger came to speak too.

“Initially, I was also upset at Dr. Bearinger because I didn’t know the full story, but after I learned I was like ‘Okay, he’s doing his best to help us and he has our best interest in mind too,’” Vanderpool said.

Since this meeting, they have come to understand the district side of the situation as well as the students.

“[I learned] that you know they’re not all out to get you and just get two sides of the story. You have them talk about their side of the story because they can’t really control it anyways,” Vanderpool said. 

However, Vanderpool and Connor both recognize student concern with how the situation was resolved.

“I think it hurt [the student body] because he didn’t send out a formal apology. He just apologized to some people and a group of students. So, he didn’t send out a whole clarification,” Vanderpool said.

Nevertheless, the administration has tried to make  it clear to those they have spoken to that the student’s wellness and safety have always been their top priority.

“The biggest thing I can say is that we want everyone in Millard Public Schools to feel welcome, included, and safe. And I think that is a huge point that has gotten lost in this. And I understand why, but above all, I want to put that on the record and speak to that,” Kleeman said.