Nov 17, 2021 - News

Waukee schools prohibit BLM signs from classrooms

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Iowa schools navigating the new state law targeting race and sexism in classrooms are taking different stances on whether to allow teachers to put up Black Lives Matter signs.

State of play: The Waukee Community School District told teachers this year they couldn't keep up signs referencing the movement that rose to cultural prominence after the 2020 killing of George Floyd.

  • Des Moines and other metro school districts, including West Des Moines, Ankeny and Urbandale, allow teachers to put the signs up.

The big picture: Since last year, there's been debate about whether the phrase "Black Lives Matter" should be associated with the group's founders, which take left-leaning political stances.

  • But in common speak, it stands as a broader, unaffiliated social movement on its own.

What they're saying: Waukee district spokesperson Amy Varcoe said teachers who had BLM signs in their classrooms before the new law went into effect in July were expected to take them down at the start of the school year.

  • The district's stance changed because Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, the eight-year-old organization that says it founded the phrase, created a PAC, she said.
  • But the new policy shouldn't be interpreted as that the district doesn't "support or honor BLM," Varcoe said.

Meanwhile, districts like Urbandale allow teachers to keep their signs up as long as they aren't "offensive or disruptive" to the learning environment, said spokesperson Dena Claire.

Between the lines: There's no specific guidance on the law from the Iowa Department of Education.

  • So schools are relying on their attorneys for their interpretations, resulting in varied rules across districts, said Margaret Buckton, executive director of Urban Education Network, which represents Iowa's largest school districts.

Of note: A spokesperson from the state Education Department didn't respond to our question about whether BLM signs are allowed or not.

What's next: Expect schools to continue questioning what's allowed under the new law until state officials or the Legislature provide clearer guidance, Buckton said.


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