PONTE VEDRA, Fla. – A large group of students at St. Johns County’s Allen D. Nease High School gathered in protest on campus before the bell rang Thursday morning.
The demonstration, which the district described as “peaceful” and “passive,” was in response to the school’s decision to remove a pride flag from the classroom of the sponsor of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance Club.
The flag got widespread attention online after a photo of it was sent to and shared by right-wing social media influencer, David Harris Jr.
In his Instagram post, Harris quoted the person who sent him the photo as saying, “What do you think about high schools displaying gay pride flags yet telling students they’re not allowed to wear any political attire? Please help me and expos[e] this flag at my children’s school. I am afraid to contact them directly due to potential backlash.”
The district later denied the rumor that students had been told they’re not allowed to wear political attire, pointing out that school board policy only prohibits employees from taking political stances, not students.
“Political signs and any other political materials pertaining to regulated political activity as defined, shall not be displayed or distributed on School District property,” SJCSD spokesperson Christina Langston told News4Jax. “Please note that these rules DO NOT apply to students, in fact, [Wednesday] students put flyers around the school. Students regularly show their support for candidates or causes through their apparel.”
The teacher told News4Jax that school administrators removed the flag from her classroom window.
Nease High School senior Blythe Gouker, 18, helped organize the student demonstration Thursday morning and said the school and district should not view the pride flag as a political statement.
“By taking the flag down, they inadvertently made a stance on their opinions on gay rights,” Gouker said. “Even if they say that it’s just policy, they’ve kind of put themselves on the side that they believe in - and that side is homophobia.”
Gouker said she and other students plan to take this issue to the school board with the goal of reversing the school’s decision and encouraging the district to reinterpret what it considers to be political speech.