Culture Wars In Class? Free Speech, Pride Flags in Schools Headline Board Meeting Public Comment

The Culture Wars, specifically LGBTQ+ issues and free speech, headlined public comment at the Okaloosa County School Board meeting on Monday night. 

Cara Marion, and her husband Craig claim the school board chipped away their rights to free speech minute by minute – and asked about the proliferation of LGBTQ+ pride symbols on Niceville High School’s campus at Monday night’s regular board meeting.

Free Speech in School Board Meetings

After public comment on the issue, the Okaloosa County School Board decided unanimously to shorten the first public comment period from four minutes to three minutes. 

 

“Limiting the time for comments gets in the way of the opportunity to hold our elected officials accountable,” Craig Marion said to the board, “the [Okaloosa County School] board already sits behind an air of supremacy,” he added in his address to the board.  

 

“Sir, you should want more public comment,” Craig Marion said to Superintendent Chambers, “Governor DeSantis has made it very clear that parent involvement is the way to protect our kids and make sure that things go right. You know as well as I do that my wife, my daughter, my son have come up before you to shed some light on some problems you have had inside of your school,” Marion continued, “[shortening the time to speak to the board] is not what you want, based on my 20 years experience in military leadership. You want to know where your problems are, because without them, you are going to get bit in the butt.” 

Craig Marion addresses the Okaloosa County School Board about the change in time limits on public comment.

Asking Around

School board staff, under the direction of Superintendent of Schools Marcus Chambers, called the other 66 school districts in the state to ask what their policies about public comment were in preparation for the meeting. 

 

Of the districts that responded, most (42) have a single public comment portion. The majority (55) also give three minutes for each person to give public comment. 

 

“There is no intent in any of these measures as publicly stated to take away public input,” Chambers said, “I think we absolutely appreciate public input from those who come up here, from those who email and from those who call.”

 

Board members listened to a third and final public comment before making their unanimous vote in favor of the change to a three-minute public comment period.

Meetings Per Month

Meetings Per Month

Okaloosa has more meetings per month than the average school board in Florida

Time Per Person for Public Comment

Time Per Person for Public Comment

Okaloosa County joins 8 in 10 other school districts by reserving three minutes per person for public comment.

Number of public comment sections

Number of public comment sections

Pride Flags in School

At the end of the meeting, Cara Marion addressed the board about another issue she felt the board had not done enough about: Pride flags on Niceville High School’s campus. 

 

Marion produced a photocopied photo of a door she claims was inside Niceville High School at the time of the school’s open house event in August. 

 

“These signs were on the doors,” Marion said, pointing to the sign which showed a rainbow-colored sign on a door. “So I looked at the flag display policy and I worked with (NHS Principal) Mr. Marello – and he actually just got back to me today. He said that the Hope Squad had put these up in 2020 and that they had been taken down.”

 

Marion added that she couldn’t find anything that would allow an LGBTQ+ flag to be put up in Okaloosa County or any other Florida School. 

 

Superintendent Chambers told Marion and the board that “the situation had been handled.” 

Florida Law says a United States Flag must be displayed in every elementary, middle and high school classroom. No Florida law (or sign code) that we could find prohibits signs expressing sentiments about the LGBTQ+ community, other countries’ or other US states’ flags. 

However, a lawsuit was filed late last year in Palm Beach County after a father discovered that a middle school teacher had a pride flag in his classroom. The father, a disbarred New Zealand attorney, filed another suit against the school district for a book he claims propagated homosexual ideology to his child. 

woman holds up photo of a door with a sign on it.
Cara Marion holds a photo of a door and points to a rainbow sign. Marion argued to the board that the sign was in violation of Florida laws about flags.
"The situation had been handled."
Formal Portrait of a Man
Marcus Chambers
Okaloosa County Superintendent of Schools

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