It was almost in the same breath. Flagler County School Board member Christy Chong had just decried a Matanzas High School student’s attack on a teacher aide there. Not a minute into her comment at the end of Tuesday’s School Board workshop, she also demanded that a “safe space” poster associated with LGBTQ groups and anti-bullying be removed from a Matanzas classroom.
“I’ll take care of it,” Superintendent Cathy Mittlestadt said.
The moment was a startling illustration of a central contradiction in the ultra-conservative doctrine that culture warriors like Chong, newly elected to the school board, represent: a zero-tolerance attitude toward students who are disruptive or violent at school, paired with zero tolerance for LGBTQ messaging aiming to protect students from denigration, bullying or violence at school.
“This is a safe space for LGBTQ students and their allies,” the sign read. It was written in white letters against a rectangular rainbow, itself against a broader light-pink background surrounded by the likeness of a white picket fence.
The sign echoes School Board Policy 511: “It is the policy of the Flagler County School District that all of its students and school employees have an educational setting that is safe, secure and free from harassment and bullying of any kind.” The policy includes “Sexual, religious, anti-Semitic, cultural, or racial harassment” and “public or private humiliation.” The district also calls its resource deputies “safe school officers.”
The sign was hung in a classroom where Matanzas High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance used to meet every other Tuesday.
“It is my understanding the classroom where the sign was noticed was a classroom where the teacher last year was in fact the sponsor for the Gay-Straight Alliance,” Kristy Gavin, the school board’s attorney, said in an email. “It is not currently where they meet and the current teacher is not the sponsor for that group. We do not permit any signs, symbols, flags that are affiliated with social or political causes.”
The district has never made clear how an LGBTQ flag, or a “safe space” sign, might differ from, say, a poster of Martin Luther King condemning discrimination, a Greenpeace poster condemning environmental desecration, or chamber of commerce-type posters championing capitalism.But the district is also trying to steer clear of state penalties that target LGBTQ expression specifically, if through relatively new legislation: Last year’s “Don’t Say Gay” law restricts discussions of non-conforming sexual or gender roles in certain grades. Another law restricts discussions of racism and bigotry. Both new laws, still in litigation, have created their own contradictions with other laws that forbid discrimination or restrictions on expression.
Chong brought up the LGBTQ issue during board members’ comments at the end of a five-hour workshop on Tuesday. She first addressed the incident involving a special education student at Matanzas who, on Tuesday, allegedly attacked his long-time teacher’s aide after she had taken away a game he was playing with.
“We do need to start a conversation about an alternative school for children that are breaking the law,” Chong told the board. The district used to have an “alternative school” on the campus of Flagler Palm Coast High School, but closed it several years ago as “mainstreaming” students, or keeping students in mainstream schools, took precedence, along with alternatives that exist still now: off-site instruction for those who do break the law. The district has had to invoke that approach repeatedly for, say, students arrested for making threats at schools.
But the incident on Tuesday involved a special education student likely with behavioral issues, which are not unusual within certain groups of special education students. Numerous questions are unanswered regarding what led to the student’s violent outburst, and privacy rules prevent the district from so much as identifying him, let alone detailing his behavioral issues–even to board members.
Nevertheless, Chong used the occasion to call for a discussion on opening an alternative school. “This is becoming a constant complaint across the campuses and in our community. We just had that battering yesterday beating a faculty unconscious which is horrible,” Chong said. “The students need to know there’s consequences for when they’re acting out. It’s not okay.” The rest of the board immediately agreed to have a discussion about an alternative school.
Chong wasn’t done. The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday released a video of the arrest of the 17-year-pold student at Matanzas. As the student was being escorted out of one room, handcuffed and, at that point, submissive, a deputy with a body cam following, the camera for less than two seconds captured the LGBTQ sigh near the door–the sign Chong seized on in those two seconds.
“Let me try to choose my words carefully,” she said. “But within that classroom, there was a poster on the wall pushing the LGBTQ agenda. And I want to know how much of this is going on in our schools. Like, I really do. If we can’t hang bible verses or pray, then we shouldn’t be pushing any kind of agenda in our schools. Our children are going there to have an education and not to have other things be pushed down their throats, especially sexuality.”
Chong’s statement was a series of gross inaccuracies. The sign, of course, was neither “sexual” nor “pushing an agenda,” anymore than signs in the same room, on an opposite wall–with which Chong had no issue–we’re pushing an agenda, thought they conveyed the same idea: “Have Hope.” “Dream Big.” “Laugh Loud.” “Smile Often.” A bright-colored decoration in the shape of a heart hung between two doors, also in the same room, echoing the two red hearts in the corner of the LGBTQ poster.
Nothing in the poster “pushed” any other message than safety–a district tenet, and no throats were being violated. Chong did not explain who she meant by “we” when she claimed that “we can’t hang bible verses or pray,” but that statement was false, too: students and staff may pray any time they choose. Staff may even join students in prayer, outside of class time, as long a students are leading the prayers.
Students may pray individually or in groups, and may wear religious clothing if they choose, including clothing displaying bible verses: “A student may wear clothing, accessories, and jewelry that display a religious message or symbol in the same manner and to the same extent that secular types of clothing, accessories, and jewelry that display messages or symbols are permitted to be worn,” the district’s policy states. Teachers and staff are somewhat more restricted only to the extent that their religious messaging would go beyond their person or personal effect, because the school may not be in a position of appearing to endorse one religion or another with, say, a crucifix above the blackboard or a menorah by the window, though it isn’t unusual for teachers to have menorahs, bibles and other religious items they own on their desk.
Students and staffers’ religious expression is explicitly protected in policy, far more strongly than sexual identity: “It is the policy of the Flagler County School District that the district will not discriminate against a student, parent, or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression,” the policy reads. “A student may express his or her religious beliefs in coursework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination.” (See: “Flagler Schools Will Reluctantly Adopt Religious Freedom Policy Imposed By State.”)
The same policy underscores federal law’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of religion. A different policy underscores a prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The board had just finished another discussion about Superintendent Mittlestadt’s contract, which expires in June. Board members will be receiving Mittlestadt’s self-evaluation within days, and will in March decide whether to extend her contract for six months, a year or longer. So far, there has been no indication of an outright embrace of a renewal, especially with three new board members elected in November–Chong, Will Furry and Sally Hunt.
Mittletadt has been walking a tightrope for most of her tenure because of ideologically divided boards. The timing of this latest culture-war distraction being what it is, the superintendent may have been quick to jump on the poster matter to placate Chong so as not to unnecessarily alienate a vote on her fate. On the other hand, Mittlestadt had already set a precedent with a hard line against LGBTQ flag-waving in the district.
Last March Flagler Palm Coast High School student Jack Petocz was suspended–not for leading a march on school grounds to protest the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill (a bill restricting discussions of gender and sexual orientation in some grades), but for defying a school edict against brandishing LGBTQ flags. Petocz had secured dozens of such flags and had distributed them.
All this stuff is getting out of hand.The blame is on teachers parents students& our goverment.
Years ago we went to school to learn.We were brought up my our parents to have RESPECT.
THESE days these kids DO NOT REPECT THEMSELVES OR ANY OTHER PERSON IN AUTHORITY.
YOU PARENTS Need TO GET BACK TO BASICS.
NO all parents.You know who you are!!!!
Gee, Christy! I’m surprised, being a school board member and all, that you don’t know the difference between gender identity and religion. One (gender identity) is how the cells of an embryo divide and the directions these cells get from hormones during the process of forming a human, and the other (religion) is a man made belief that seems to be really difficult to agree upon. Regardless, I would think your priority would be to protect children from harassment and bullying. I guess not.
There goes the far right again, totally obsessed with sex and our genitals. I think they need more schooling.
An Asian Woman Thinks Republicans Love Her says
I would like to say to Ms. Chong, there was a time Asians were held in interment camps in the US because they couldn’t be trusted as they could be spies. There was a time not long ago Asians were being attacked for COVID-19. The bed she is laying in with the wolves that would discriminate against her in a heartbeat is the bed she chose. One day again, she will lose any and all power she thinks she has because she is Asian, first and a woman second. I’ll never understand these people.
I want out of this timeline. It’s awful. I hate it.
Why are you speaking negatively about her race/ethnicity? It sounds like you agree with the internment camps.
Do us a favor. When championing a cause, try to be a decent person to all parties.
Vee: I’m afraid you got it all wrong. Read it again.
Chong sez gays don’t belong.
She’s the one who doesn’t belong on the school board. She’s too extreme.
Joe Michaels says
Socialists will never get their way. Thank God we have smart parents paying attention. Finally.
What are you talking about Mr. MAGA mind… “Socialists”? You are repeating what you heard on Fox, which just admitted to lying to the public.
You realize how racist your comments are, right? Funny how people feel it is ok to say such things while supposedly championing others.
Why are you denigrating her based on immutable characteristics that she cannot change? You undermine your credibility and are displaying the same cruelty as the one you’re railing against.
How can she possibly be pro-bullying? What kind of BS rallying cry is “We don’t want any safe spaces! ”
The day after MORE needless gun deaths it feels like all we DO need is more safe spaces.
Don’t keep giving a public voice to hate filled people.
Trouble brewing…. We knew Chong would be a problem. The ghost of Janet McDonald to looms large.
The dude says
It was only a matter of time that she would veer into the horrible given her constituents cheer for it.
Who cares what the sign says?! A person was brutally attacked and Chong sees past that situation and sees a sign? How can anyone even entertain her comment at this point?
Eric Falkenstein says
A teacher was viciously assaulted, and her first reaction was about LGBTQ+ signs. She has perverse priorities.
Joe Michaels says
It’s all part of the same socialist playbook, Eric.
Joe, you should watch “Agents of Chaos” and then “The Family”. Enlighten thyself.
Yep, the beatdown of school violence at Matnzas HS, unless the 6’6″ 270 lb 17 year old was LGBTQ and the motive was LGBTQ related, there is no association here with a safe space.
As far as the LGBTQ sign, it still amazes me that he sign has to be up here for a specific group. Any public place should be a safe place for a child to go. Safe spaces seem to only be for some people, past & present ? That was never the intent of “safe spaces”, ever. At risk for bullying never discerned specific race or gender identity. There’s a difference when a minor needs to be protected & when society needs to be protected from the minor for criminal activity & violence. It’s a shame that a sign like that needs to exist. But it seems to be like All Lives Matter, that triggered people about 3 years back.
Pretty sure that LGBTQ kids get bullied more than jocks.
Bill C says
Yet Jesus also said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another” (John 13:34). Be a good Christian Christy.
I don’t see what LGBTQ signage has to with the attack on that teacher. This smells lie political opportunism on the part of Ms Chong to me.
I thought it had previously been reported that the student attacked the teacher’s aide because he was told to turn off his gaming video device.
Alphabet MOB says
Great Job Chong!
Shouldn’t say it’s a SAFE SPACE for ALL students? Why does it have to limit it.
Tamara Megee says
There’s a reason that it designates its a safe space for LGBTQ students and that would be because, as a group, they are targeted and discriminated against regularly- especially here in ‘God’s country’.
It’s sinful how professing Christians target this group of humans as somehow less worthy of God’s redemptive love than other groups. In order to receive His love, they have to repent and “give up their wicked ways’ then they can be accepted by the church. Live in the closet and we might let it slide…… Never can the evangelical church- full of God’s fervent self appointed judges- accept them as fellow human beings that struggle just as much as any other’ sinner’ that asks for God’s love.
The judgers run around with their fingers flying and jaws flapping never realizing their own sins are where they need to look.
Funny how the pews are full to the brim of divorced people, sexually promiscuous single people, adulterers (if you are divorced and remarry that’s adultery) and they’re welcomed with open arms (unless they’re liberals….. then they are the problem). God forbid a person is gay – that’s one sin the church just can’t allow. Insert huge eye roll.
In a county that is so openly hostile to LGBTQ community members, signs like those save lives.
LGBTQ kids are 40% more likely to attempt suicide and 1 in 3 will have attempted before they hit 18.
Why? Because they feel nothing but shame and humiliation from the church that refuses to follow Jesus’s 2 commandments, but rather chooses to live in the sin of oppression and condemnation.
They’re scorned in their own homes, beaten and kicked out- not because they are violent, but because they are homosexual or Trans.
It goes without saying that in this climate not all adults are safe spaces for gay kids.
They need love to survive as much as anyone, but grace is only for the ‘chosen few’ that occupy those pews secure in their piety.
Get right with Jesus.
Of course it would be a safe space for ALL students- that goes without saying.
It also happens to be a safe space for the least of these as well.
You contradict yourself and prove my point with this statement. “Of course it would be a safe space for ALL students- that goes without saying”….. what does the word ALL mean to you? ALL is ALL. That’s the entire problem. You want to segregate kids and keep one group down by pointing out they are not ALL.
Florida Voter says
When you break your arm, you put your arm in a cast. You don’t put your whole body in a cast. When you sprain your ankle, you brace your ankle not your wrist. Likewise, when one group is discriminated against, you reach out to that group and offer a “safe space,” you don’t need to specify that it’s a “safe space” for groups that are already safe (or at least as safe as can be at a school).
This sign reaches out and supports one of the marginalized groups.
If I take care of ALL of by body I don’t have to put a cast on anything. If you take care of ALL there are NO marginalized groups. Putting people in a separate bucket is what marginalizes them. It makes them a “victim”. Stop marginalizing people and treat ALL with dignity and respect. What you are doing is not going to fix the problem.
Chris Romaine says
One word: PULSE
Keep that bullshit out of school period, you people are sick… Indoctrination at its finest…
Yeah, cause saying that it’s ok to be how you are born is soooo much more an example of indoctrination than telling kids that if they don’t believe in a magical space God, they will burn in fire for eternity after they die. Get a grip. Stop parroting all the hateful, social injustice warrior crap. You clearly don’t understand the definitions of the terms you throw around.
If a “safe space” sign is so offensive, then that is reason such a sign is needed in the first place.
*** BEST COMMENT ***
JoB: Perfectly stated!
Better yet if ALL are included in a safe space then there is no issue.
Tired of It says
She is the darling of Moms for Lunacy. She has no qualifications and is not interested in improving education for our students. She is there to pursue a political agenda. Doubt that she has ever actually read a book. But local Republicans love her.
That didn’t take long. Here we go, loopdy-loo…
…and so the bigoted clown show begins.
Very thankful that Florida school boards are being returned to the people. The devastation wrought upon generations of our children and grandchildren by radical leftists needed to end for our country to survive.
Herman is the only one who gets it. ALL students are EQUAL, deserving of respect. That apparently is no longer being taught? The goal here should be equal respect for all. A sign sets people apart. Shocking how many have never studied our Constitution. Instead, we find ourselves in an age of division. Any student bullying for whatever reason needs to be called out and punished.
Are they teaching our Founding documents here? It doesn’t appear that they are. Sad that has to be explained, to anyone.
I wonder what would happen if a student went to the dean or guidance counselor because he/she/they were bullied because of being LGBTQ. Because of the new “Don’t say gay bill,” how should that be handled? Better check with the School Board! Yikes!
Job: Chaos and culture wars. The agendas of the far right.
Just another nutcase !
Just a student says
Stop focusing on what doesn’t matter and instead focus on what does. Safe spaces are what we need, we never asked for those to be taken away.
Michael Cocchiola says
The Moms for Lunacy have taken up residence in Chong’s empty skull and now own her out-of-control center. The Lunatics are not involved in our public schools to help improve the educational experience. They are in there to pervert public education and create fanatical cadres of little Lunatics.
So, school principals, Superintendent Milstead, and rational school board members… do not back off one single inch. Safe spaces are reassuring to all students, especially those who are bullied and others who have issues with gender identity.
Just say no to the extremist book-burning Moms for Lunacy.
“The sign echoes School Board Policy 511: “It is the policy of the Flagler County School District that all of its students and school employees have an educational setting that is safe, secure and free from harassment and bullying of any kind.” The policy includes “Sexual, religious, anti-Semitic, cultural, or racial harassment” and “public or private humiliation.” The district also calls its resource deputies “safe school officers.””
OK here’s an option : Make a new sign – keep the rainbow motif – but on the sign place the text of the above school board policy in big, BIG, letters. Detail the provisions. See if the wingnuts object to seeing their OWN stated policies being posted.
We all need a safe space from the ferals such as the one that committed violence at Matanzas.
Old school. Where did things go wrong? When mom and dad got divorced. He/she comes from a broken home…used to hear that whenever someone was a troublemaker. The kids who wouldn’t or couldn’t behave were escorted out so the rest could learn to be productive members of society. My how things have changed. Discipline was removed and therefore not taught. I hope he gets the help he needs. I hope she makes a full recovery. I hope the mayhem in our schools stops so children can focus on learning.
M.Neil Stevens says
[Do not use this site to spread disinformation. There has not been a Democratic legislature in Florida in a quarter century and the school board has had a supermajority of Republicans for 23 years. Thanks.–FL]
Democrats are the cause of this. No accountability, punishment or morals, any more. Just vote for me. Fact not fiction, lets face the truth. Look at the laws established by Democrats. Nuff said. Thank you.
M.Neil Stevens: No accountability? Let’s see now, “President Donald Trump on Wednesday pardoned more than two dozen people, including longtime confidant Roger Stone, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law.” – NBC News
Roger Stone was convicted of seven felons by a jury of his peers. Where is the accountability here?
Swampy, swampy, swampy!
Nancy N. says
Since you claim you value morality so much, can you explain why you follow a party led by Trump? Remind me again…how many wives has he cheated on? How many porn stars has he paid off? How many organizations that he runs have been charged with fraud? How many convicted child molesters is he friends with?
The “Don’t Say Gay” moniker refers to a law signed into law by Governor DeSantis called “The Parental Rights in Education” Bill. It simply states that conversations and discussions about sexual or gender orientation will not be conducted in grades K-3. There is nothing in the language of the bill that states you cannot say gay. People need to get over this. Read the bill before we criticize or mimic the liberal news media in attacking our state.
Nancy N. says
It also includes provisions that apply to all grades. And that are very vaguely defined but carry serious penalties. Which means that schools and teachers are choosing to self-censor because they are terrified of running afoul of a law that no one has any idea what it really restricts.
Mother of a Special Needs Child says
Two different issues here being addressed. I will speak about only one. Two very different issues were intermixed here.
Board Member Chong completely missed the point regarding the ESE student.
Having individuals not properly trained to assist kids with behavior issues, coupled with a child not receiving the correct interventions is a recipe for disaster.
Nancy N. says
Yes, unfortunately these scenarios are becoming all too common in schools – ESE kids being mismanaged and then criminalized when they become out of control as a result. That’s the real story that needs attention.