Parent Concern Creates a Classroom Policy Change

   During the Oct. 17 School Board Meeting in the high school LGI room, the board members addressed their decision regarding religious and political signage throughout the corporation. After a parent voiced their concerns at the previous meeting, the school board reviewed their policy. The recent meeting caught the attention of multiple news outlets, including CBS News, Post Tribune, and several radio stations.

   “Dr. Veracco, I’d like to thank you very much for actually looking into my request of figuring out if the poster was inappropriate, and I appreciate you taking action against it,” Cherie True said.

   True was the parent who originally brought this concern to the school board’s attention during the meeting on Sept. 19. After consulting with their legal team, the school board took action. On Oct. 11, an email was sent out requiring all teachers in the corporation to remove any decorations in their rooms that could be seen as political or religious. 

   In the document that Dr. Larry Veracco, Superintendent, made available at this month’s board meeting, titled “The Complexities of Political and Religious Speech,” stated that, “Staff was notified during the week of October 10th that items supporting Black Lives Matter, rainbow flags, and religious messaging needed to be removed as soon as possible.”

   After the board members went over their other points of discussion, Cindy Sues, school board president, informed the crowd that the meeting would now be open to public comments. Students, parents, and teachers took this opportunity to share their opinions on the new policy.

   “You are not just taking down a flag, you are taking down a sign to LGBTQ+ students that they have been recognized and related to, despite what they may go through at home or at school,” Cally Konecki (10) said. “Having one simple piece of fabric up can make a difference, and sometimes that difference can be life or death. These issues are not political arguments. These issues are human rights and basic human equality.” 

   Some parents showed their appreciation toward Verraco for taking action. However, they also reflected on the lack of open discussion at last year’s mask mandate.

   “This is not something that the parents are dictating. This is Indiana law… Yes, [the school board] did not follow the law on masks, but that’s not why I’m here. There seems to be a big disconnect in the interpretations of what occurred regarding LC’s mask decision in August 2021,” Laura Dubish, St. John resident said.

   Ryan Neth, St. John resident, expressed his concerns about what taking down pride flags would mean for all students. Parents against this decision pointed out that this notice was sent out on National Coming Out Day.

   “The fact that these materials have been removed sends a message to LGBTQ and minority students that they are different and we cannot discuss you in school,” Neth said. “School should be a safe place for all students, a space where we learn about different cultures, ways of life, a place to advance young people to well-rounded human beings and make a difference in this world.”

    Multiple students also brought up their past experiences with bullying within the Lake Central School Corporation. They expressed their feelings with raw emotion as some spoke through their tears.

   “We have an extensive surveillance system in the building, so we’re able to unravel things. When I visited with our principals a week and a half ago we said that we need to have a renewed commitment to be ready to strike fast, when we see kids getting picked on for any reason,” Veracco said.

   Towards the end of the meeting, school board members stated their own ideas about the situation at hand.

   “I was not elected to push my personal feelings. I was elected to work with the board as we are a voice of five, not one. Therefore, I had to listen to what Dr. Veracco said during tonight’s meeting and consider it, as well as the advice of our lawyer. Many of you have rightly argued posting Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rainbow flags is not engaging in politics, but instead welcoming everyone to class. I personally agree with you. Unfortunately, Indiana courts have a record of not agreeing. Dr. Veracco, administration, board, staff, and teachers across the corporation want every student to feel welcome,” Jennifer Medlen, School Board Vice President, said.

   Before the conflict was brought up by a parent, Veracco had not heard anything about the poster or the issue from any student at the school.

   “We really haven’t heard from our student body that they are uncomfortable with any of this stuff,” Veracco said. “It does appear to be more of a parental issue. You have kids thinking and that’s always a good thing.” 

   With a current lawsuit against Lake Central mixed with the backlash from students, the School Board had to come to a decision. The school corporation attorney advised administration to change the policy to banning religious and political signage.

   “This topic has come up in other parts of the state. I have friends at Westfield High School that dealt with this last fall, and Chesterton High School dealt with it last spring. I knew that their attorneys have told them you can’t win,” Veracco said.

   The superintendent clarified the line of what decorations are and are not allowed in classrooms. Students’ expressions of beliefs are not affected. Clubs, like Gay Straight Allienance Club, are able to have decorations during meeting times if it correlates with the club. For example, this club is allowed to have LGBTQ+ flags because it represents the club and has voluntary attendance. Nicole Kelly, School Board Secretary, suggested that students come together to create an equality symbol with no political connotation.

   “I’m upset with this decision, but I understand where it is coming from,” Mrs. Carrie Wadycki-Cruz, GSA sponsor said. “I worry how this decision will impact the students in the long run. I know that the students here are smart and creative and I hope to help them create a symbol that is acceptable to promote the same message as the flag.”

   Lake Central School Corporation is considered a limited open forum. If the board decided to shift to a completely open forum then all opinions and beliefs are allowed to be expressed.

   “Students can wear just about any shirt they want to school,” Veracco said. “Unless you came in with a shirt with a middle finger up. But like it or not, the law [restricts teachers and the school’s decorations]. Let’s figure out how we can adjust to it. It is hard to get people to move when they have a closed mind. But there’s an old saying, ‘kill them with kindness.’ The point I was trying to make is that I’m hoping that we come out of this stronger, as a school community.” 

   Veracco and the rest of the school board advocates for everyone to be inclusive and treat everyone kindly. Many board members reinforced that without the decorations that students should continue to treat others with respect and kindness.

   “I think that we should have messages that help students develop work ethic, and the soft skills required to be successful in life. I believe anything that stays to generic kindness, and inclusion can be acceptable,” Veracco said.

You can access our story about the Sept. 19 meeting below for more background on this topic.

We will not let hate rule our school. Love and inclusivity will prevail.

— Jen Medlen, School Board Vice President