Neosho School District defends policy; group mobilizes to press for change

·3 min read

Sep. 21—NEOSHO, Mo. — Further discussions about a teacher who resigned and the Neosho School District's anti-discrimination policy are focusing on a flag.

When former Neosho Junior High School teacher John Wallis resigned over the Labor Day holiday, it was the result of actions that started with the display and removal of a pride flag in his classroom. After being asked to remove it, then sign a document stating he would not discuss sexuality issues or have any coursework or displays about the subject, Wallis said earlier this month that he signed the letter, then decided to resign.

On Sept. 10, the district issued a written statement to its parents, teachers and other members of the community defending its anti-discrimination policy as written.

The statement reaffirmed an "all means all" philosophy, and documented that sexual orientation and gender identity are covered under the term "sex," based on documentation from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to the statement, the district does not discriminate against anyone, and takes pride in the diversity of people employed by the district.

The statement also covered the district's practice of keeping lessons to educational standards set by state and federal officials, and that off-curriculum lessons about "religion, politics or any other topic" are not allowed to be addressed by teachers.

Even though sexual preference or gender identity could be looped under "sex," an official with the Missouri School Boards' Association said earlier this month that a school board is welcome to add those specific terms to its policy.

Jonathan Russell, Neosho School Board president, said that such a change is currently not on an agenda for future discussion.

"There hasn't been any move about that at all," Russell said Monday. "I can't tell whether that will happen in the future, but it hasn't been asked to be put on an agenda."

The same goes for deciding whether to allow a pride flag to be displayed in a classroom. The school district's policy is centered on keeping focus on educational and curriculum standards.

"I know other issues have been brought up about whether we'd allow other types of flags, such as Christian flags," Russell said.

Others are mobilizing to encourage a change. Members of a Facebook group named All for Love and Love for All held a protest Monday outside of Neosho High School to support Wallis.

About half a dozen people attended the protest, flying pride flags and holding signs along Neosho Boulevard. The members then moved to the parking lot of the district's administration building, where they were visible to people leaving Monday's regular meeting.

McKenna Pulsipher, organizer of the group, said the pride flag is being misrepresented to represent instruction about sexuality, when it should be considered more of a symbol of acceptance.

"It wasn't about sexuality, but they are making it about that to ignore the issue," Pulsipher said. "It was about him trying to provide a safe space for kids to be different, period."

Pulsipher said the group is working with Neosho parents, as well as parents from other school districts in the Joplin metro area, to get more information and press for a possible change.

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