Equity & Diversity

Classroom Crackdowns

By Steven Saint — February 26, 2007 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Eric Hamlin never dreamed that his first day at Carmody Middle School would be his last. But the principal’s ultimatum was spelled out in writing: Remove all foreign flags from the 7th grade geography classroom or face disciplinary action.

Believing flags help students become more informed world citizens, Hamlin ignored the order. The next day, before students arrived at the Denver-area school, the principal gave him five minutes to pack up and leave the building.

Eric Hamlin, who refused to take down his flags, urges educators to stand up for academic standards.

Administrators cited a Colorado law prohibiting foreign flags on public property, even though the law includes an exception for a “temporary display of any instructional or historical materials.” Hamlin says he resisted the order because the administration seemed more concerned about potential parent complaints than curriculum.

“I had a Mexican flag up,” says Hamlin, noting that hundreds of students at neighboring schools had held pro-immigrant marches last spring. “It wouldn’t have been an issue if it had been the flag of Denmark or Greece.”

The incident won Hamlin a reprimand and one day’s paid administrative leave. He sought a transfer to a different Denver-area middle school and within two weeks was displaying foreign flags in a new classroom—this time without controversy.

Hamlin isn’t the only one who got in trouble this year for his teaching methods. Kentucky social studies teacher Dan Holden was suspended for five days after he burned small U.S. flags as a springboard for an essay he assigned to his 7th grade students. (A district spokesperson says Holden was suspended because burning the flags created a safety hazard.)

Texas art teacher Sydney McGee was let go after a parent complained about a field trip to the Dallas Art Museum, where students glimpsed art depicting nudes. The district claims the dismissal was performance related.

Since these are local personnel matters, no national organization is keeping tally on the number of such incidents. But Deborah Fallin of the Colorado Education Association says two recent high-profile cases—Hamlin’s and that of Jay Bennish, a Denver-area teacher suspended last spring after comparing President Bush’s rhetoric to Hitler’s—have teachers concerned.

“Teachers have First Amendment rights, but they’re limited once they get into the classroom,” Fallin says. “The administrators were overzealous in the flag case. What kind of message does this send to people considering a career in teaching?”

Most, but not all, of these cases are settled privately. Courts tend to favor school districts over teachers, says Perry Zirkel, professor of education and law at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, because school boards generally have the right to control curriculum. That’s why some unions have negotiated academic freedom clauses, which require complaints to go to arbitration instead.

Experts say the onus is on teachers to know district policies, state and federal laws, and, especially, the tenor of the community. The best defense for a teacher is relating all expression to the curriculum. “The teacher is within his rights if he is not pushing personal or religious views on students,” Zirkel says.

After surviving his own run-in with administrators, Hamlin urges teachers to stand up for their educational standards. “I think teachers should take risks for the benefit of their students,” he says. “Have faith in your ability and your own best practices. The last thing we want is bland curriculum and students who aren’t challenged to think.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2007 edition of Teacher as Classroom Crackdowns

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Do Students Have What They Need? One Survey Looks to Answer That Question
Even before the pandemic started, one state started thinking about how to understand student needs better. That plan accelerated with the virus.
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay What the Indian Caste System Taught Me About Racism in American Schools
Born and raised in India, reporter Eesha Pendharkar isn’t convinced that America’s anti-racist efforts are enough to make students of color feel like they belong.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Our Student Homeless Numbers Are Staggering. Schools Can Be a Bridge to a Solution
The pandemic has only made the student homelessness situation more volatile. Schools don’t have to go it alone.
5 min read
Conceptual illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How Have the Debates Over Critical Race Theory Affected You? Share Your Story
We want to hear how new constraints on teaching about racism have affected your schools.
1 min read
Mary Hassdyk for Education Week