Berm addresses flags in classrooms

Responding to the increased prevalence of flags (such as the intersex pride flag) being displayed in classrooms, The Bermudian Springs school board spent a long caucus meeting on Monday debating whether to make its existing flag policy stricter. The conversation was continued by members of the public during the board’s meeting on Tuesday.

Board member Travis Mathna broached the topic during the board’s caucus meeting on Monday evening, prompting a long discussion by the board. During the time for public comment, several individuals voiced their thoughts on the topic.

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A handful of people addressed the issue again during the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday evening.

On Monday, Mathna presented draft policy 807, which if adopted would prohibit all flags and banners except those explicitly deemed appropriate by the district.

“I did some research on what other districts are doing to try and limit distractions and flags and banners that are controversial in nature, etc, to limit that kind of distraction and divisiveness in the classroom,” Mathna said. “By no means, when I did the research, is this designed to be against any one particular group.”

Mathna said the district administration receives “tons of phone calls and emails from parents complaining about material in the classroom” and hoped the policy would address those concerns. Mathna said individuals have also reached out to him.

Board president Michael Wool asked Superintendent Shane Hotchkiss whether district administrators field many complaints about distracting materials in the classrooms.

According to Hotchkiss, there was a “brief” time last spring where there were concerns but there have not been many. He said he has received less than 10 emails from the 1,600 to 1,700 families in the district voicing concerns.

Wool said the district has other policies designed to address potential distractions in the classroom. He also worried that adding more detail to the flag policy would make it more difficult to enforce.

“By adding this, my concern is going to be the enforcement because, for example, if I have a flag hanging on a pole in the back of my pickup truck in the parking lot, is that covered?” Wool said. “If I have a button that has a symbol of a flag, is that covered?”

Board vice president Matthew Nelson said teachers may want to display flags to show they are a safe person to talk with.

“These students exist in our community and they’re not going to go away, so pretending that some students aren’t here or that only some students are appropriate isn’t a policy that we want to make at Bermudian, isn’t a path forward for us,” Nelson said. “So we want to make sure that we find something that works for everyone.”

Hotchkiss said the district works to make sure students know which staff members are trained in the Student Assistance Program (SAP). Trained teachers have an indicator next to their doorways showing students that those staff members have received training. SAP is intended to “to assist in identifying issues including alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, and mental health issues which pose a barrier to a student’s success,” according to the state.

“We let our kids know who is SAP trained because some kids are just afraid. They have issues that are happening and they need to know who those teachers are that are part of the SAP team and that are trained. And so if you walk around, you’ll see next to somebody’s classroom, ‘This is a SAP place,’ just to give you an idea.”

Board member Jennifer Goldhahn said she fears allowing flags in the classroom contributes to an over-politicized environment. She said the intersectionality (pride) flag is “political” and can cause division.

Nelson argued that identities are not political.

“Students, of course, are free to believe whatever they believe, and parents will raise their students to believe whatever they believe, but that doesn’t change the fact that who a student is and what they believe and how they act isn’t a political statement,” Nelson said. “Students that are LGBTQ, that’s not politically debatable. That’s not a political statement. They exist, and they exist in our community and they exist in our schools.”

Goldhahn stressed that all students should be loved and respected but felt the school needs to be neutral.

“This is about a political point of view being pushed on children and other students who don’t agree with it,” Goldhahn said. “We can embrace the differences, but the differences don’t have to be pushed on other students. I would never ask anyone to pretend to be someone or something they are not, because then you are not being true to yourself.”

Board members debated whether restricting flags would remove inclusive symbols or whether allowing flags would open a path to Nazi, Confederate or other symbols being displayed.

Nelson said that while SAP training and guidance counselors are helpful, showing students that they are recognized and that safe people to talk to are in the school could be a sign of compassion rather than a political statement.

Nelson wondered whether discussing the policy when so few complaints have been brought to administration would create a “self-fulfilling prophecy” leading to more distractions and complaints.

Goldhahn hoped the conversation would embolden those who have felt unable to publicly voice their concerns to administration and the board.

Hotchkiss pointed out that despite the differing opinions among the board members, he applauded each of them for coming from a place of concern for students.

“I’m always a glass half-full kind of guy, and so what really has stood out to me tonight is the unification of you all wanting to love our kids and focus on bringing everybody together and love our kids,” Hotchkiss said. “We should celebrate that.”

The superintendent suggested that the district hold a forum, perhaps employing a facilitator and expert speakers, in order to further study and discuss the topic.

While the board did not vote on the issue, several members of the public voiced their thoughts.

One individual said the United States and Pennsylvania flags represent all students, making other symbols unnecessary.

Another speaker, a former teacher at Bermudian Springs High School, said signs can help students feel safer speaking with that teacher or staff member, adding that signs can serve as “conversation points.”

Another told the board that emails with complaints should be passed on to administration so they can be addressed.

Others also voiced their thoughts both for and against revising the policy, with one person asking the board to bring in clinicians who can offer their expertise.

Allergy training

Sarah Nickey, a parent who has addressed the board on two other recent occasions, thanked staff members for completing recent allergy safety training.

Nickey said her daughter suffered a severe allergic reaction in a Bermudian school earlier this fall. Since then, she has asked the district to retrain staff members in treating anaphylaxis and using EpiPens.

The parent said she believes the training was a necessary investment.

“I know the 60 to 75 minutes of training may have seemed long, but it is completely necessary and valuable knowledge to keep our students safe at school,” Nickey said. “I’m very thankful and appreciative that the district took the appropriate action to train all staff, including support staff and substitutes. My hope is that all students with known and unknown allergies will be safer at school, surrounded with staff who are perfectly trained and knowledgeable.”

The Bermudian Springs school board typically holds caucus and regular board meetings on separate evenings. In December, both will be held on the same evening.

The caucus meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5. The regular meeting will follow at 7 p.m.

Meetings are held in the high school auditorium and are live-streamed on the district’s YouTube channel. Agendas are posted to the district’s website.

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Imari Scarbrough is a freelance journalist. She was a staff newspaper reporter for five years before becoming a freelancer in 2017. She has written on crime, environmental issues, severe weather events, local and regional government and more.

You can visit her website at

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John H. Gay Jr.
John H. Gay Jr.
1 year ago

One individual said the United States and Pennsylvania flags represent all students, making other symbols unnecessary. They are correct.

Beth Farnham
Beth Farnham
1 year ago

The implication that Pride affiliation is a “mental health issues which pose a barrier to student success” akin to drug, alcohol, and tobacco usage is appalling. I have to assume it’s Superintendet Hotchkiss making that terrible parallel or the journalist wouldn’t have included the point at all.

Pride affiliation is political to the extent of ensuring enfranchisement and eliminating descrimination, but Nazi and Confederate flags are most definitely political and subsume violent subjugation of human beings.
Anyone lumping these groups together in any capacity probably shouldn’t be involved in education.

Beth Farnham
Beth Farnham
1 year ago
Reply to  Beth Farnham

And another thing…if Bermudian Springs was truly concerned for the students, they could explore all of the ways the PA Department of Education has recommended creating an LGBTQ-inclusive environment, which can be found here: They do not have to stress about Pride flags if they already have a truly inclusive environment. Really, forcing LGBTQ students to depend on a flag in a classroom to find out who is a “safe adult” to discuss LGBTQ issues with is a disservice to the entire Bermudian Springs student population. Every teacher and staff member of the school system should be a safe… Read more »

Donald Marritz
Donald Marritz
1 year ago

Great, detailed reporting

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