Byron, Minn., schools bar Ukrainian flag display in class

Stand with Ukraine Rally
People hold Ukrainian flags during a Stand with Ukraine Rally to condemn Russia’s war in the country at the Minnesota State Capitol on March 6, 2022.
Tim Evans for MPR News

A Byron Public Schools high school teacher was asked to remove a Ukrainian flag from her classroom after students asked her to display it as a show of solidarity with the country, sparking debate among teachers and administrators over which flags or symbols can be displayed at school.

Superintendent Mike Neubeck said district lawyers are reviewing the school system’s policy covering what can be displayed in classrooms. He said he’s concerned that allowing teachers to hang the Ukrainian flag now could be problematic in the future.

"If we have Ukrainian flags hanging up, and someone wants to come and hang a different type of flag, we can't say yes to this group, and no to this group,” he said.

Justin Blom, a fifth grade teacher and co-president of the local teacher's union, said in the context of Russia's attacks on Ukraine, displaying the flag isn’t political.

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"Is this a political and a partisan issue? It's not,” he said. “The U.S. Senate unanimously declared Vladimir Putin a war criminal. You know, how unified can you get when the U.S. Senate actually agrees on something?"

Displaying the flag is one way for kids to identify and talk about bullying, Blom said.

“We teach our kids to be upstanders and not bystanders, to stand up to bullies in support of those students who are themselves bullied. And the biggest bully right now in the world is Vladimir Putin,” he said.

Neubeck said that teachers in the southeastern Minnesota school district are being encouraged to talk about the war in Ukraine in the classrooms, and answer student questions.

“At no point did we or the school board ever tell a teacher that they cannot teach [Russia’s attack on Ukraine] or talk about it,” Neubeck said. “In fact, we encourage them to talk about what's happening, and to try to educate our students about what's happening.”