NUSD advocates for political neutrality

Kinda Hamami and Kaysie Ruvalcaba

At the beginning of the year, all Novato Unified School District (NUSD) school staff were sent an email reminding them that they must stay politically neutral in a classroom environment. This left some wondering what was considered political and what wasn’t.

Initially, this topic was brought up by an issue concerning signature lines on emails. NUSD faculty were told not to add any other information or graphics, besides their name, title, school, contact information and NUSD logo.

Samantha Whitlock

“This is where this started from, it was taking any political symbols off our emails,” Principal Jennifer Larson said. “That brought up the question about the flags in the classroom.”

Superintendent Jan La Torre-Derby explained that this was because they are district emails, not personal emails.

Teachers and staff were reminded to stay politically neutral and not share their personal beliefs or opinions with students, as is board policy. However, teachers are allowed to share both sides and let students determine their own opinions without being influenced by teachers.

“As an educator, knowing that I have that influence in a classroom, it’s so important that a student should never be able to know my political, religious, affiliation,” Larson said. “But they should know that I am 100% willing to and supportive of talking about sharing and helping you to foster your own beliefs.”

The topic of political neutrality brought about questions like: Are Black Lives Matter flags considered political? Pride Flags? La Torre-Derby explained that she believes that both can be considered political depending on the individual’s beliefs. Up until now no teacher has been asked to remove any flags.

“Any of it could be considered political based on your belief system. The opinion is in the eye of the beholder,” La Torre-Derby said. “Until all these movements become more mainstream, so everybody is accepted all the way, they become political.”

There have been instances where the school, or district has made a decision, which was taken negatively, and was viewed as political by some. For example, in 2020, Black Lives Matter was put on the marquee, as a way to show support to people in the community; this was purely student-led. It was a group of students who brought the concern to Larson.

“It was in response to George Floyd, it was a student-led request, and there was a significant community outcry about it,” Larson said.

A few years ago, the district got permission from the state to fly a progress flag, which is centered around showing inclusivity for all students. This was met with opposition from some in the community.

“If they don’t support that movement then they see it as political, and you’re making a statement,” La Torre-Derby said. “We got all kinds of phone calls. ‘How dare you do this?’ ‘What are you thinking?’ ‘I want it down,’ .”

The goal of political neutrality is to create a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment for students.

“It’s more about how we show our support and how we show our commitment to ensuring every student on our campus is seen and heard and respected and safe without isolating any other group,” Larson said.

Senior Mahalia Morgan along with the help of students from the Student Equity Team have made posters that promote inclusivity without a political view.

“There’s a few different ones (posters), and I’ve been asked to make some more, because the resolution was passed in our district and we need to stand by it,” Morgan said.

These posters are supported by NUSD, and students are encouraged by the district to share their opinion.

“Nobody can move a student culture or make a change at a school more than students,” Larson said. “It’s amazing how quickly and how much change students can make.”

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