Michigan middle school teacher quits after refusing to remove pride flag: 'Oppression'

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A Michigan middle school teacher packed up his belongings and resigned from his job mid-school day after school officials told him repeatedly to remove a pride flag in his classroom. 

“They were asking me to be complicit and in keeping this group of students marginalized, and all I’ve gone through education is to fight for those students,” Russell Ball said, WXMI reported. “It wasn’t something I was going to do.”

Ball, who taught 7th grade health and eighth grade family consumer science, packed up his belongings during third period on Nov. 22 at Three Rivers Middle School. He had received an email from the school’s principal on Nov. 19 telling staff to remove pride flags from their classrooms. Ball left his flag in place after the first email. 

“Due to an external challenge in the district that has reached the board level, I have been advised that staff in the building who have pride flags hanging in their rooms will need to take them down until further notice. Mrs. Nash will be on a call today with Thrun Law Firm to get guidance for us, and by the end of the day should have details. Please understand that while I may personally stand behind you and your stance to have the flags up, this is something that I have to do until things get cleared up through Mrs. Nash. Please make sure this is taken care of before kids come in to your class today,” one of the emails sent to teachers said, according to WWMT. 

He also received another email, but still did not remove the flag. 

“When the administration came around and told me to take down my pride flag, I told them no,” Russell Ball said in a TikTok video recounting how he quit his job. “I was not going to be an active participant in the suppression and oppression of an already marginalized group that I’m a part of.”

Ball said that he also told his students about the first email, and they cheered him on for not removing the flag. 

“They understood what the flag means to me and to the students within the school,” Ball said. “One of the class periods went as far as cheering and clapping when I told them that.”

It was when the school’s principal texted Ball that he must remove the flag by the fourth hour of the school day that he packed up his belongings and left the school. 

“That’s when during my third-hour plan period, I packed my stuff up and tendered my resignation,” said Ball, WWMT reported. 

 Rainbow flag waving on the street during a gay pride celebration with unrecognizable people lining the sidewalk in the background. U.S. embassies can now display the flag on the same pole as the American flag in June, during Pride month.  

Ball, who identifies as bisexual, said that his classroom was meant to be a welcoming place for all students, and students had appreciated the flag and his work in the school. 

“I had students that were happy to see the flag and in the room that were telling me, ‘Thank you for being here,'” Ball said, WXMI reported. 

“It’s important for the students that are members of the LGBTQIA+ community to have representation in the schools,” said Ball. “And the flag is a big part of that representation. It’s also a part of who I am as a person. So it felt like to me, I was being complicit in the marginalization of the student group that has largely been marginalized their entire life. So it’s important to me to maintain for my students that there’s a safe place for them to be, and they still had support within the school.”

Ball said that by walking off the job and quitting, he hopes to set an example for his students and his own children. 

“I hope they take away the belief that – the understanding that there are convictions and beliefs we have that are worth fighting for, and sometimes the loss comes at a price. But it’s worth it in the end to stand up for what you believe in and stand up for marginalized populations that may not have a voice of their own,” said Ball, WMMT reported. 

An empty classroom.

Three Rivers Community Schools released a statement to families, staff and the media on Nov. 24 saying the situation is “ongoing.”

“In regard to the pride flags that were displayed in the classroom, they were temporarily removed from each classroom until the Board of Education could carefully review this matter and gather additional facts. Information was shared with the TRCS Board of Education and [Middle School Principal Jason] Bingaman, who then passed this guidance on to the TRMS staff in the form of an email,” Three Rivers Community Schools said in the statement. 

“TRCS continues to explore best ways to support all students, including the continuation of the GSA Club already established at TRMS. Continued guidance of Thrun Law Firm, review of current board policies, and reaching out to other districts for best practices will also be part of this ongoing process. TRCS appreciates all of the contributions of our staff and will continue to comply with its Board policies.”

A protest over the matter is now planned for Dec. 6, when the next school board meeting is scheduled.

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