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Principal of 15 years claims she was forced to quit after hanging up an LGBTQ pride flag

Principal of 15 years claims she was forced to quit after hanging up an LGBTQ pride flag

'We need to accept every single child, and we're not currently doing that—and we're allowing particular individuals to dictate how that will look in our public school system.'

A former middle school principal in Marshall, Minnesota, is now suing the local district alleging she was removed from her long-time position after she put up a rainbow pride flag in the school cafeteria. According to Star Tribune, in her lawsuit, Mary Kay Thomas accuses the Marshall Public School District Board of discrimination and retaliation for her refusal to remove the flag—which was part of a larger flag display. The presence of the flag in the school cafeteria allegedly caused an uproar among a group of staff, parents, students and local clergy and ultimately led to Thomas being removed from her post and put in a position that previously never existed in the district and that the district does not intend to make permanent. 



 

"Mary Kay Thomas has been a teacher and principal for more than three decades. She is a career educator with a long track record of success. For fifteen years starting in 2006, Thomas was the principal at Marshall Middle School. Year after year, she received contract renewals, pay raises, and praise for her performance," the lawsuit states. "But when Thomas decided to display an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the school cafeteria in early 2020, everything changed. Within days of the Pride Flag going up, a small group of anti-LGBTQ middle-school staff, parents, students, and local clergy began efforts to take the Pride Flag down."



 

"Ultimately, these efforts grew to include removing Thomas as principal," it adds. The longtime educator reportedly put up the Pride flag in the cafeteria in January 2020 as part of a display of 30 or so flags of marginalized communities. While the display mostly featured flags of countries of origin for English-language learner students, it also included some tribal flags and an autism flag. Following pushback from the "small group of anti-LGBTQ" critics, Thomas made rainbow stickers available for middle school staff and backed a gay-straight student alliance at the school.



 



 



 

"Plenty of former students reached out and said, 'Thank you—if that flag were there when I was there, I would have had a much better life,'" she said in an interview. "I only regret that I didn't do it sooner." The lawsuit claims Thomas was even compared to the devil "following her public association with LGBTQ people and students. Sadly, the Marshall School District has sided with these critics. By August 2021, the District had decided to take the Pride Flag down. In the meantime, it has subjected Thomas to an escalating series of adverse actions—including, but not limited to, threatening her employment, conducting a bad-faith employment investigation, putting her on an indefinite involuntary leave, suspending her without pay, and putting a notice of deficiency in her personnel file."



 

On Tuesday, Jeremy Williams—superintendent of Marshall Public Schools—said in a statement that the district is committed to creating a respectful, inclusive, safe learning and working environment. "Marshall Public Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination, against both students and staff members," he said. "While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the Complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct."

The lawsuit also raises numerous other allegations about a hostile climate at Marshall Schools including a school board member using anti-gay slurs in the presence of principals, other school board members and faculty and making sexual advances toward Thomas. It accuses the district of "subjecting Thomas to an escalating series of adverse actions—including, for example, a bad-faith employment investigation, involuntary leave, suspension without pay, and notice of deficiency." She was reportedly removed from her position as principal and assigned to a special projects position while being put on a yearlong performance improvement plan.

"We need to accept every single child, and we're not currently doing that—and we're allowing particular individuals to dictate how that will look in our public school system," Thomas said. She added that educators in the district are "very concerned about whether or not they should keep their head down [about LGBTQ issues], because they could be next." David Schlesinger, an attorney with Nichols Kaster, the Minneapolis firm representing Thomas, said: "What's at issue here is her legitimate attempt to protect the civil rights of LGBTQ students, and how that basically got flipped on her by this group of parents and clergy." Thomas seeks to be reinstated as principal, along with other damages.

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