SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Jeremy Baldwin has been teaching at Booker High School for the last five and a half years. He says he’s made it a point to make sure students feel comfortable and welcome in his classroom.
Up until last week, he had three flags displayed in his classroom. He says they are meant to symbolize peace, love and acceptance. One of the flags is a “COEXIST” flag with rainbow colors.
“It is just something that’s meant to be there and kind of give the room an ambiance that everyone is welcome and we are just going to get along and coexist,” explained the social studies teacher.
After four years of displaying the rainbow “COEXIST” flag in his classroom, he was surprised when school leaders last week told him that the flag must be removed because it was “political” in nature.
Baldwin pointed out the district’s decision to remove the flag comes shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“I know the law says nothing about ‘don’t say gay’ but, in action, it sure looks like it is ‘don’t say gay’ if right after that is passed, a flag I have had for four years is now suddenly asked to be removed because it is considered political,” said Baldwin. “Other than being told that it was political by my principal, no one will define why that rainbow flag is considered political.”
WFLA asked Sarasota County Schools for the reasoning behind the decision and why the flag was allowed in Baldwin’s classroom for the last four years and received the following statement in response from a spokesperson via email:
“With regard to Booker High School, we can confirm that a teacher was asked to remove a flag from their classroom that was considered to be in violation of School Board Policy 2.51 (Political Activity on School Board Grounds). It is the expectation of all district administrators, school-based administrators, teachers, staff members, and students to adhere to School Board policies and work together to maintain a safe and effective working & learning environment for all.”
Baldwin says students at Booker High School have expressed frustration and confusion over the district’s policy decision.
“The biggest question I got from my students was, ‘why is that political? That is not Republican, that is not Democrat,'” explained the Sarasota teacher. “It’s not trying to persuade anyone to believe one way or another, it’s just a show of acceptance and approval, that is what is the most frustrating.”
Some Sarasota County School Board members are questioning the policy.
“I know that the policy is being cited about it being political, but I don’t view the rainbow flag as political. I view that as an identity, which is not a political item,” said School Board member Thomas Edwards.
School Board Member Shirley Brown said she plans to bring up the issue during the next board workshop scheduled for May 3.
“Let’s show the kids that we do value them, that we are not going to we are not going to turn our backs on them and go back 20 years,” said Baldwin. “Let’s be a progressive district in both education and how we value our kids.”