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Colorado Geography Teacher Quits over Foreign Flag Dispute August 26, 2006

Posted by Administrator in Education.

. . .and this is quite the absurd story.

It seems that Ken Hamlin, the geography teacher in question here, ran afoul of a couple of adminstrators who couldn’t see the forest for the trees when it came to interpreting state law and district policy.

Hamlin was hired to teach world geography to seventh graders at the school, which is in Jefferson County, Colorado. For the past eight years, he says he has taught in that district.

He prepared his classroom by displaying the flags of Mexico, China, and the United Nations, as he has in previous classes without incident, he says.

But when Assistant Principal Victoria Winslow came into his class on August 21, the day before school was to begin, and saw the flags, she told him to take them down.

“That surprised me and caught me off guard,” he says. “I asked her why I had to take them down, and she said it was Jefferson County School District policy. I said I’d had the flags up before in Jefferson County, and if that was the policy, I had some issues with it. She left, and about an hour later she returned and said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry I was wrong. It isn’t district policy. It’s actually state law,’ and handed me a copy of a Colorado state statute.”

That statute says: “Any person who displays any flag other than the flag of the United States of America or the state of Colorado or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or institutions upon any state, county, municipal, or other public building or adjacent grounds within this state commits a class 1 petty offense.”

There is an exception in the statute for “a temporary display of any instructional or historical materials not permanently affixed or attached to any part of the buildings.”

Hello.  Right there is a clear out for admin to let Hamlin post his flags. (And I expect he had quite sound educational reasons for hanging them).

Hamlin says he read the statute and noticed “the last part about the temporary display” for educational purposes and pointed that out to Winslow. “But she felt the flags seemed permanent and said again that I needed to take them down.”

A little while later, Principal John Schalk came to see him. According to Hamlin, he said, “I hear we’re having some issues with flag. You need to understand that you have to take them down. Now.”

Hamlin refused. “I told him I wanted to have the flags up so the students could observe them and reference them and ask questions about them,” he says. “He informed me I was insubordinate. I agreed with that. However, I told him I thought there was a bigger issue here. So he told me there would be further disciplinary action.”

Herein lies the real story.  Strutting VP tells him to take down the flags (why?  We will never know).  Teacher scoffs at him and tells her -justly- to get a life.  She then calls Big Daddy and he lays the hammer down.

Just plain stupid.

It seems that JeffCo upper suits agreed.

After the Denver Post and Huffingtonpost and other media outlets got a hold of the story, Hamlin met with some county and school officials to see if they could work out an agreement.

“What we eventually agreed to was that I would be able to have the flags up on a rotational basis, with 12 weeks being the longest, which is how I use the flags anyway,” Hamlin says.

But before agreeing to go back, Hamlin wanted to meet with the principal and other school administrators, which he did on August 24.

And he wanted to consult with other faculty members to see what the school atmosphere was like.

“I had my confidence shaken in the school administration’s ability to back me in certain situations,” he says.

The teachers he spoke with warned him that “a lot of people in the school don’t like what you’ve done, they think you’re trying to rip the school apart,” he says.

What the teachers were saying in effect is that Hamlin should have bowed his head and taken the VP’s demand.  On the one hand, I agree with them.

But speaking as a former (and in some ways current) administrator, I still feel Hamlin was actually CORRECT here.  That VP was being an idiot, and Hamlin called her on it.  If he had told me they were up there for instructional purposes and were temporary, so be it.  Good luck and Godspeed with your classes!

So, in the end, he decided to leave the school.  Not that I blame him for a second.  He can’t trust the adminstration, and apparently the teachers aren’t backing him either.

My only problem with the whole thing is that now the ACLU is sniffing around. . .and that is rarely a good thing.

Mark Silverstein, legal director for the Colorado ACLU, questions the validity of the state statute and the school’s interpretation of it.

“I have a hard time understanding how the state of Colorado’s interests are threatened by someone displaying a foreign flag in some state building,” he says. “Especially by a geography teacher using foreign flags as part of the instruction about different parts of the world.

The statute itself represents legislative overreaction to a nonproblem, and the principal’s decision was an overreaction to the statute.”

Let is rest, you foolish judicial hyenas.  Hamlin is happy with things.  Granted, Colorado has a simply IDIOT law on the books here. . .but that is none of your concern.  No civil rights are being trampled.

HT: Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.



1. The Village Idiot - August 31, 2006

So that is the school district I would have attended had I ever gone to public school… Glad my parent’s kept me in Catholic Schools my whole life!

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