By Jesse Berman
The Frederick County Public Schools system has found itself embroiled in controversy after a Nazi flag was seen hanging from a window at the Frederick-based Governor Thomas Johnson High School, Friday, Feb. 7. A picture of the flag was taken by local resident Nicole Hopkins, and later posted to social media.
The flag was allegedly part of a lesson on World War II history for a class of 11th and 12th graders that included a larger display of several different flags from both sides of the conflict, said Daryl Boffman, executive director of public affairs for FCPS. “Once the principal, Dan Lippy, was notified the flag was removed immediately, and it has stayed down,” Boffman said. He did not have specific information on the flag’s current whereabouts.
The district has apologized for the flag on its Facebook page, according to Boffman, who said that using it for the class was not a requirement of the school, but a choice by the educator. “Unfortunately [the flag] was not removed at the conclusion of the class, and the blind of the window was left open, so the flag was visible,” he said.
The incident is currently being investigated by the school district, and so Boffman was unable to provide the name of the teacher who organized the class in question.
Seth Gordon-Lipkin, education director at the Anti-Defamation League, Washington, D.C. Region, said he was satisfied with the school’s apology. “We are pleased to see the school’s swift action to remove [the flag] that evening, and we are glad that the matter is being investigated,” he said.
When asked, Gordon-Lipkin declined to comment on whether he felt the district would be able to investigate this matter effectively and appropriately. Gordon-Lipkin also would not comment on whether disciplinary action should be taken against the educator or any administrators.
According to Gordon-Lipkin, the ADL became aware of the incident the weekend following the incident as postings about the flag came in over social media.
“We were surprised to see that in the window of a classroom,” Gordon-Lipkin said. “We wanted to understand how and why it was being used in the classroom of this school, and why it was displayed so prominently on Friday night during a basketball game.”
While stating that it is possible to appropriately use hate symbols within an educational setting, Gordon-Lipkin also made clear that such symbols should be used with caution. “We want to discuss with district leaders the methodology of why [the flag] was hung in a classroom, without casting judgement,” he said. “We recognize the educational value there but also want to make sure that people within the school and the teacher and principal understand that when a flag like that is hung so prominently, it can have an impact on people whose identities are a target of that hate symbol.”
A statement from the ADL expressed the same sentiment. The statement stressed that educators must “consider the harmful impact that this sort of offensive imagery can have on students with marginalized identities.”
“Even if a hate symbol is used with educational intent, the context in which it is presented matters to students’ feelings of safety and acceptance in their schools,” the statement continued.
Gordon-Lipkin suggested that these symbols could be shown via a projector or with a PowerPoint, rather than hanging a flag with the symbol in the classroom itself.
ADL offered to assist the school with its best practices and resources, expressing hope that the incident could become a teachable moment. “We have reached out to both the district and the school to offer our resources on Holocaust education, including primary and secondary source materials, so that students can learn about the Holocaust in a respectful and safe way,” Gordon-Lipkin said.
While he could not say if he was aware of other incidents like this in Frederick, Gordon-Lipkin did state that the “ADL has tracked a disturbing rise in anti-Semitic incidents in schools across the country. This often involves swastikas used to intimidate Jewish students.”
“Students can definitely feel safe at our school,” Boffman said. “This incident was taken out of context. This was just negligence in that it should not have been exposed to the window, and once the lesson was over, the flag should have been removed.”