Before the Computech Middle School yearbook had to be reprinted because a teacher’s page featured a Ku Klux Klan symbol, complaints were made about the teacher displaying the Confederate flag in her classroom.
On Monday, Fresno Unified apologized for a page in the yearbook dedicated to eighth-grade social studies teacher Kari Pruett that featured a red-and-white cross known as the primary symbol for the KKK and two round Confederate flags. The cross and the flag are classified as hate symbols by the Anti-Defamation League.
The district said the page had been designed by a student who did not know the symbols’ association with racism and white supremacy, and that Pruett was unaware of the page design.
But a father of a student at Computech – which only accepts high-achieving students – said Pruett had displayed the Confederate flag in her classroom all year, and had received complaints.
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A district spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that Pruett was asked to take down the flag a few weeks ago after a parent complained to the principal. Pruett had the Confederate flag, along with about a dozen other “historical flags,” hanging up in her classroom for a majority of the year, according to the district. Pruett has never been disciplined for anything related to the display of the flag, the district said.
For me, the flags are symbols used in teaching students about our country’s history and absolutely do not reflect who I am as an individual or a teacher.
Computech Middle School teacher Kari Pruett
“Why is she not being reprimanded in some way?” said the father, who asked not to be named because his daughter is a student. “If South Carolina, along with other states, have banned that flag from being hung in public buildings because of what it represents, why is she allowed to hang it? If California prohibits state agencies from selling or hanging that flag, why is she allowed to?”
His daughter, a Computech student who he described as black and Latina, said the display of the flag was inconsiderate. “It just makes me feel uncomfortable,” she said. “All year she had been getting complaints from students and parents about having the flag in her room … Her reasoning for having the flag was because ‘she teaches all parts of history.’”
Earlier this year, a teacher at Folsom Cordova Unified, near Sacramento, was placed on administrative leave for hanging a Confederate flag in the classroom. The flag was found alongside a Civil War Union flag, potentially in preparation of a history lesson.
In that case, the teacher had previously been the subject of a complaint for making a “racially insensitive, inappropriate lynching analogy” during a lesson.
I think that flag and what it represents is a very important part of the fabric of our society – of where we’ve been and where we need to go.
Fresno Unified school board president Brooke Ashjian
A California law passed in 2014 prohibits state agencies from displaying or selling the Confederate flag. But it’s up to individual school districts whether teachers can display the flags in classrooms, according to Robert Oakes, a spokesman for the California Department of Education.
“Individual decisions like that are made by elected school boards, and there’s nothing in state law that prohibits that,” Oakes said Thursday. “But the state has very strong protections against discrimination, harassment and bullying. I can assure you that (State Superintendent Tom Torlakson) strongly opposes any form of discrimination or anything that would make a student feel uncomfortable or unsafe.”
When asked about the use of the flag in classrooms, Fresno Unified School Board President Brooke Ashjian stood by it being used as a teaching tool.
“I think that flag and what it represents is a very important part of the fabric of our society – of where we’ve been and where we need to go,” Ashjian said. “I think that this nation decided 150 years ago that we weren’t going to have slavery and that all men were created equal, but unless you teach about that, then you lose the value of what equality means.”
Pruett did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday, but said in a statement provided by the district on Monday that she used the flag to teach about the Civil War.
“For me, the flags are symbols used in teaching students about our country’s history and absolutely do not reflect who I am as an individual or a teacher,” she said.