"I won't wait to be my full self until I'm out of this school," said Paso Robles High School student Nicole Rogers as she stood on the school's performing arts center stage on Oct. 20. The audience before her, packed with more than 200 people, roared with applause. Dozens more spilled out into the foyer, many donning rainbow face masks.
Rogers, along with about a dozen of her peers, organized the Coming Out Against Hate forum to talk about their experiences as LGBTQ-plus students. They also spoke out against the Paso Robles Unified School District's ban on 3-by-5-foot flags, implemented earlier this month after a student stole a classroom's pride flag and defecated on it.
Initially the ban required all flags to be no larger than 2 feet by 2 feet. But with the standard indoor flag being 2 feet by 3 feet, and outdoor flags being 3 feet by 5 feet, some teachers and students saw this as essentially a pride flag ban.
- Photo By Malea Martin
- SHOWING SUPPORT Teachers welcome students and community members to the Paso Robles High School performing arts center on Oct. 20, where students organized a Coming Out Against Hate forum.
Right before the forum, the district backpedaled on its new rules, announcing that 2-by-3-foot flags would be allowed after all. But some students felt this wasn't enough: They want the 3-by-5-foot pride flag to be allowed in classrooms, too.
"They announced it the day or two before we had our forum, and it felt like they were trying to silence us before we even got the chance to speak," Paso High senior Ava Hughes told New Times. "They were trying to make it seem like we're fighting against them for no reason, but it didn't actually change in the way it should have."
Hughes said that the originally defaced flag was 3 feet by 5 feet.
"We just want to be allowed what was taken from us," she said.
District Superintendent Curt Dubost said he attended the forum.
"I was impressed with the quality of the presentation the students made," he said. "We continue to work with the students who spoke that evening on a variety of proposals that they have made."
In the morning on Oct. 22, the students who organized the forum met with district officials. Later that day, Dubost sent faculty members a letter reiterating the requirement that flags be 2 feet by 3 feet or smaller.
"As previously announced, after discussions with all of these groups, the standards have been updated to ensure standard-sized indoor flags are not excluded," Dubost wrote in the letter.
Employees were directed to remove any flags or banners larger than 2 feet by 3 feet. Dubost told New Times that those who do not comply will be disciplined as outlined by the district's collective bargaining agreement with the union.
"It would depend on the individual situation," Dubost said when asked to elaborate.
For Hughes and other students at the meeting, while allowing 2-by-3-foot flags is a step in the right direction, the district's choice to enforce a restriction on full-size flags is disappointing.
"As students, we're exhausting ourselves fighting so hard against this, and they won't listen to us and understand why it's so important to us that we get what we asked for," Hughes said, "because we deserve it after everything we've been through."
Social studies teacher Heather Stover, who has taught at Paso High for 20 years, is still displaying a 3-by-5-foot flag in her classroom, despite the district rules. As of Oct. 25, Stover told New Times she hadn't been asked to remove her flag.
"As an adult at the school, I have an obligation to support all the students," Stover said. "If they can be courageous, so can I." Δ