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PORTLAND, Ore. (PAMPLIN MEDIA) — Sandy High School administrators say an incident that students have labeled an issue of LGBTQ+ discrimination is actually a misunderstanding of the campus dress code.
The controversy began on Friday morning, June 3, when two students arrived at school wearing flags — one in a Pride flag and one in a Trump flag.
Because “students are not allowed to wear (actual) flags,” both were asked to remove them, according to Oregon Trail School District communications director Julia Monteith.
Monteith said the student wearing a Trump flag removed it when asked and went back to class. However, Zayn, the student wearing a Pride flag refused to remove theirs and ended up in the office.
Zayn, a sophomore who uses he/they pronouns, told the Sandy Post that school administrators asked them “to remove the flag because it was a ‘tripping hazard.’ And I understand why.”
Because Zayn is a minor, the Sandy Post is not using their last name.
However, Zayn added: “Whenever I walk with my flag as a cape, I always carry it on the side to prevent tripping. A couple times I haven’t carried It and that’s on me, but no one tripped because of it.”
Monteith said Zayn was sent to the office after refusing to comply with dress code.
This action was taken because he was “wearing a flag, not because it was a Pride flag,” Monteith said. “We support kids if they want to show their pride, but they are not allowed to wear flags.”
Principal Sarah Dorn said when Zayn refused to remove the Pride flag, “I offered to allow the student to complete classwork in the office, but the student refused.”
“I refused to complete classwork online because I just wanted to go back to class,” Zayn said. “I don’t want to have to be isolated like a rabid animal because I am proud of who I am. I told her I wanted to go back to class, and she said I couldn’t until I took off my pride flag. So, I just refused. Then she sent me home.”
Classmates who reached out to the Students Advocating For Equality (SAFE) group earlier today claimed they’d received pre-approval to wear the Pride flag to school and “the school had been okay with it for weeks.”
“If a student was given prior approval from a staff member, that was given by mistake,” Dorn said.
“I feel that you shouldn’t be able to wear flags that contain political, racial, or just discriminative comments,” Zayn said. “Pride flags are just colors. I feel if we’re (going to) ban colorful flags we should just skip ahead and ban color. It’s ridiculous. I’m trying to make a stand for all those people who suffered due to LGBTQ+ discrimination.”
Zayn and members of SAFE have put a call out asking for their affirming peers to wear Pride colors and clothing on Wednesday, June 8, to show support for LGBTQ+ students and fight against homophobia in the school.
After Zayn was sent to the office Friday afternoon, photos of a fellow student wearing a Trump flag while sitting at a classroom desk began to circulate on Instagram. Many alleged in the comments that the student had been asked to remove the flag but was not punished after they later put it back on.
Monteith said Dorn was investigating this matter to find out if this was the same student previously warned about how their attire violated the dress code.
“If a student who was spoken to about wearing a flag put it back on later, they would receive a consequence,” Dorn said. “If a student wears a flag in the future, we will hold on to the flag until it can be picked up by a parent/guardian.”
In an email to school administrators, SAFE managers said: “The events of this morning were deeply upsetting for many students. Pride Month is an extremely important time for students who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, as it is a time for us to celebrate who we are, and how much we have accomplished. All week students have worn items celebrating their pride, but today, members of our community were mocked and harassed by students demonstrating bigoted behavior. Instead of protecting and defending the LGBTQ+ students of Sandy High, it seems our school has yet again chosen the side of the oppressor. This is unacceptable.”
SAFE was formed by students in 2020 as an advocacy group for marginalized students. In the past, the group has led a petition effort to ban Confederate flags from school campus and hosted Pride and anti-racism events.
Monteith said the district has not received any reports of mocking from students, though “it’s not uncommon for a student who feels they’re being mocked to post about it on social media, but not actually report it (to the school).”
Zayn told the Sandy Post that “I’ve experienced a lot of slurs from people for wearing Pride, people have called me a f****t, a disgrace. … A group of people walked past me in the halls and commented ‘f***ing disgusting.'”
Of his experience at Sandy High, Zayn said: “It’s been a lot of hate. I have a non-binary flag that I like to wear and when some people see it, they will yell: ‘Go, Lakers’ to try and insult me.”
Despite ongoing mocking from his peers, Zayn explained that he has only reported incidents of hurtful comments. “Here and there I will vaguely speak about the events. But I’ve never done a full report. I’m nervous to and just feel like nothing will come of it,” he said.
Zayn said that as a middle schooler, he reported an incident about a classmate and suffered because of it.
“The school did something about it but all the friends of the person I reported screamed at me and harassed me,” he said. “Ever since it’s been difficult to report things.”
While the district maintains that students are protected from discrimination within its schools, students say there is still work to be done in terms of how administrators and staff handle incidents among peers involving marginalized students.
“The incident on June 3 is complicated … and is scary for all LGBTQ+ students in our community,” said SAFE co-manager Amaya Peralta. “There is a long history of bigotry within SHS, but it is time to push for change and protect marginalized students. The administration needs to acknowledge the issue. There will never be change if we do not band together to protect students and hold perpetrators accountable.”
In an email, SAFE managers requested an explanation from administrators as to how the incident involving their Pride flag-wearing peer was handled.
“If ‘Students Thrive Here’ means anything, then we must apply it to ALL students, including, and especially, those who are a part of a community which has experienced so much hatred already,” the SAFE team said.
As the school day began to wrap up, Dorn sent an email to The Post containing a statement that will be read to students and has been shared with staff already. It reads:
“A logo of a flag that is printed on a piece of clothing or displayed on an item like a water bottle or binder is considered appropriate at school. Due to safety concerns, full-size flags may not be worn as an item of clothing or attached to clothing. All logos, as well as flags, etc., must be school appropriate. We want all students to feel welcome and accepted.”
Dorn added: “All students are protected from unlawful discrimination and harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability and age. This includes students who are LGBTQ+. All reports are fully investigated and students who participate in that behavior receive consequences in accordance with policy and practice. Information regarding students’ consequences and outcomes of investigations are confidential due to student privacy.”