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Millard officials say claims about LGBTQ restrictions are a misunderstanding

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OMAHA — The Millard Public Schools responded Friday to claims regarding the display of LGBTQ-supportive materials following social media posts published Thursday by State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha.

In an Instagram story post, Hunt included an email she sent to Chad Zimmerman, Millard’s executive director of activities, athletics and external affairs. It said she had been contacted by constituents concerned that Millard North High School teachers “are not allowed to display pride flags, safe space stickers or anything associated with the Human Rights Campaign,” a national LGBTQ advocacy organization.

She also alleged in the email that Zimmerman compared allowing a rainbow flag to allowing a Satanism club. She said Zimmerman apologized to her Thursday for the comment and said “he had given it a lot of thought in the last 24 hours.”

Rebecca Kleeman, spokeswoman for Millard, said the claims that the district is restricting pro-LGBTQ displays is a misunderstanding.

“We met with Sen. Hunt in good faith after she reached out to us,” Kleeman said in an email on Friday. “We respect and appreciate her passion for caring for the LGBTQIA+ community. Her interpretation of the meeting was very different from ours.”

Reuters reports that the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 61 to 36 on Nov. 29, 12 Republicans sided with 49 Democrats to push the legislation through.

Kleeman said the district has no policies preventing the display of flags, stickers or other symbols, but staff are not allowed to display materials associated with political or advocacy organizations unless they are directly related to curriculum.

“There are certainly ways to display positive messages or symbols which promote inclusion and diversity, and seek to create a school environment where everyone is treated with respect and dignity without promoting an organization alongside it,” Kleeman said. “Principals have been meeting with their staff around this issue and we believe misunderstanding of these guidelines was the first source of concern.”

Hunt, who is bisexual and has advocated for legislation supporting LGBTQ Nebraskans, could not be reached for comment Friday. In her social media post, she faulted Millard North Principal Aaron Bearinger for being the one who asked staff to remove the pride flags and other displays.

Kleeman said she thinks the concerns around LGBTQ displays was sparked by an incident that occurred several weeks ago. She said the district had an issue regarding a display that resulted in the removal of a pride flag.

Kleeman said the district can’t comment on the specific situation because of privacy, but she added “context influenced this decision”

Hunt said in her Instagram story post that she was hoping to get a resolution from her meeting with Millard officials but “that didn’t happen.”

“I have spoken with numerous students, teachers and staff who will confirm on the record what happened at Millard North, even though school administrators will not acknowledge it,” Hunt wrote. “On issues like the safety of children and human equality, we cannot give one inch.”

Kleeman said the district understands the concerns and strong emotions around this issue.

“It is especially difficult and sad to see these misunderstandings coalesce around one school as these are district matters,” she said. “We continue to work hard to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students and staff.”

LGBTQ issues, particularly those concerning gender identity and the transgender community, have animated debates over education, including in the recent races for the State Board of Education.

Beyond campaign season, a Grand Island high school made national news earlier this year when the school district axed the student newspaper after it published an edition highlighting LGBTQ issues. Also earlier this year, the Archdiocese of Omaha announced it was delaying implementation of gender identity policies in Catholic schools after some Catholics and schools expressed opposition to the policies.

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