Bluffton-Harrison school board approves ‘controversial matter’ policies; Pride flag removed

Local News

BLUFFTON, Ind. (WANE) — Monday night, a number of parents and community members returned to Bluffton High School for the Bluffton-Harrison Metropolitan School District’s (BHMSD) school board meeting. On the agenda, revised policies that surround “controversial matter.”

The discussion stemmed from a Pride flag that was and still is hanging on the wall of an eighth-grade classroom at Bluffton Harrison Middle School. Science teacher Beverly Balash, who shares the classroom, says the flag was hanging for years, and then a parent reached out to the school district with concerns. That lead the district to seek legal counsel.

After hearing from multiple community members and having a second reading Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to approve the “controversial matter” policies.

Board Member Mike Murray says the board is looking at the district as “a whole” and things are “only going to get better.”

For Balash, she says she understands the board decision saying ‘no to everything.’ She says the Pride flag in her classroom will come down, for the fear of being fired. In its place will be posters that promote a welcoming environment that also is in rainbow colors.

“I don’t agree with the policy,” Balash said. “That isn’t what the flag is about. But sometimes you go to work and you don’t agree with what the rules are at work and you can either expect them and continue to do the job you love or you can not expect them and no longer be in a job you like.”

In August the BHMSD school board held a special meeting to discuss the policy created by the board with the help of legal counsel. The goal of the meeting was to “develop a policy to clearly identify topics considered controversial and outline the buildings and/or grade levels in which controversial topics would not be permitted.”

Hundreds attended the special meeting, several of which voiced their opinions on the policies and the school’s handling of the situation. By the end of the night, there was an overwhelming theme that the meeting was not about the flag but about the bullying that takes place in the schools and the mental health of students.

That’s why the BHMSD is working to create a group that will discuss, consider and recommend options related to “access, equity, diversity, acceptance, and success.”

“It’s a community-based working group identifying individuals within our community to help lead the process to discuss and review and ultimately help us recommend for student success,” Superintendent Brad Yates said. “I’m excited for that group.”

Members of the group include county and city leaders, church pastors, therapists, social workers, and Bluffton-Harrison employees including Balash. The group will have its first private meeting on Sept. 20.

As for Balash, she says this will more than likely be her last year teaching. She says she appreciates the board’s support these past months and says she understands they were put in a difficult place however, she says she feels ‘burnt out.’

“I don’t have an agenda,” Balash said. “It’s just so that kids can see the flag and go okay I can go in there and be myself and I can take a breath. I can be me. I don’t have to the sensor.”

The next school board meeting will be held on Oct. 12.

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