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Pride flag will fly again at Wellington Heights Secondary School

Solitary Flag - The Canadian Flag now flies alone above Wellington Heights Secondary School in Mount Forest. The school board plans to install a second pole to accomodate the school's pride flag, which was removed earlier this year.  Photo by Patrick Raftis

Pride flag will fly again at Wellington Heights Secondary School

by Olivia Rutt and Jaime Myslik

MOUNT FOREST - A pride flag at Wellington Heights Secondary School (WHSS) that was taken down earlier this year due to flag etiquette guidelines will fly again.

It’s been four months since the Mount Forest school raised the pride flag to celebrate diversity and acceptance.

Within a couple of weeks of the flag raising, which took place on Feb. 6, principal Jennifer Meeker said she started getting complaints.

“There was an initial complaint that was negative towards (the flag),” she said.

Meeker added she then received a phone call from “a member of the community who was not a parent” regarding Canadian flag etiquette.

She said the complainant told her the school is not allowed to fly any other flag on the same pole as the Canadian flag.

“She told me I was breaking the law and that the people she was talking [to] wanted to have me charged,” said Meeker.

“Obviously, I was very concerned.”

The principal said she sought clarification from RCMP officials, who told her she would not be charged, but there are guidelines for flying the Canadian flag.

Meeker said after discussions with the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB), the flag was taken down on Feb. 21.

It is displayed in another prominent location inside the school.

“I spoke with the staff and students and they understood because we didn’t want to be disrespectful to the (Canadian) flag, that’s important, but I said we weren’t stopping here,” she said.

“We were going to figure out a way to get the (pride) flag put up.”

Meeker explained a new flag pole was ordered at the end of March and the UGDSB approved the purchase and installation on May 23.

Officials hope the new flag pole, expected to cost $3,240, will be installed for the start of the 2017-18 school year.

WHSS student and student equity committee member Georgia Mills said she was unaware of plans for a new pole when she spoke to a reporter from the Toronto Star about the matter.

“Unbeknownst to students and staff, there were plans in the works to build a second flag pole, but as we were unaware, we still thought the story was kind of lingering,” she said.

On June 14, in response to an article published in the Star the previous day, UGDSB equity curriculum leader Heather Ginzel and superintendent Cheryl Van Ooteghem sent a letter to staff and students to clarify the situation.

“I wanted to assure everyone that the board is absolutely in support of our LGBTQ community and will continue to promote safe, equitable and inclusive initiatives in our schools and celebrate the LGBTQ community,” Ginzel  stated in the letter.

Mills said she was “crushed” when the flag came down.

“Everyone was still very happy that we had even put it up in the first place,” she said.

“I think it was a good step, but if felt like a step backwards when it was taken down.”

Mills understands etiquette rules led to the removal of the pride flag, but she said at least one of the complaints was about more than flag guidelines.

“The importance of flag etiquette can’t be denied here and that was the entire reason it was taken down,” she said.

“But the root of the complaint (was) that the person had differing views and was using the flag etiquette as a loophole to express their opinions.”

Mills added she is happy the flag will be up for the new school year in September.

“It’s a symbol of being accepting of people and I think that in 2017, we are in a modern age where acceptance in fundamental,” she said.

Meeker said the flag represents a safe place.

“That’s what I want Wellington Heights to be, is a safe place for all students, all staff, all community,” she said.

Not the first time

The UGDSB is now reviewing its policy on displaying flags, Ginzel noted in her letter.

The Wellington Heights pride flag removal was not the first time a flag was taken down at a board school due to a complaint.

Earlier this year a Guelph elementary school received a complaint from a community member about flying a Canada 150 flag on the same pole as the Canadian flag, explained UGDSB spokesperson Heather Loney.

That flag was also removed.

“After the initial media story came out this week, board staff sent an email to all school principals asking that if they did have a secondary flag flying to please remove it for the time being as we review our flag policy,” she explained in an email on June 15.

Loney said the board’s review will include feedback from staff, students, parents and community members.

“Throughout this review, board staff will be seeking a balanced approach that both respects the federal guidelines and allows the opportunity to celebrate our diverse communities,” said Loney.

Canadian flag guidelines

The pride flag removal has raised many questions about the legality of flag etiquette.

According to the Government of Canada website, there are a number of guidelines on how to display the national flag.

“The national flag always takes priority over all other national flags when flown in Canada,” it states.

The site explains the flag should be flown on its own pole and it should not be used as a table or seat cover, as a masking for boxes or as a barrier on a stage or platform.

The site also notes the etiquette is not governed by any legislation, but by established practice.

“The rules applied by the federal government are not mandatory for individuals or organizations; they serve as guidelines for all persons who wish to display the Canadian flag and other flags in Canada,” it states.

June 16, 2017

 
 

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