ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Mich. — A local teacher says he quit his job with the Three Rivers School District this week over a dispute regarding a Pride flag hanging in his classroom.
Russell Ball said the dispute stemmed from a parent's complaint and added that he felt taking the Pride flag down went against what he stood for as a member of the LGBTQ community.
"When the administration came around and told me to take down my pride flag, I told them no," Bell said in a TikTok video. "I was not going to be an active participant in the suppression and oppression of an already marginalized group that I'm a part of."
Ball, who identifies as bisexual, said he wanted his classroom to be a safe place for everyone.
"I had students that were happy to see the flag and in the room that were telling me, 'Thank you for being here,'" Ball said.
Ball said he wasn't the only school employee to fly a Pride flag in the classroom. However, he said he was the last one to hold out after two emails sent by school officials asked teachers to take them down.
"They were asking me to be complicit and in keeping this group of students marginalized, and all I've gone through education is to fight for those students," Ball said. "It wasn't something I was going to do."
He shared a couple of text messages between him and the school principal. In those messages, he told the principal that he could not take the flag down in good conscience.
The texts show that the principal told Ball that the request to take down the flags was coming from the district's lawyer and superintendent.
In a statement, interim superintendent Nikki Nash said the issue over the flags is "ongoing" and that she is working with the school board and attorneys to provide a safe place for students.
The school board's next meeting will take place on Dec. 6. Ball says that he and others plan to protest the school's decision to remove the Pride flags during that meeting.
Ball says he worries about the students who identify as LGBTQ after his struggles growing up.
"I feel like had we had the safe place and able to have people that we could identify with, I wouldn't have struggled with my own sexuality for 30 years because we didn't have that normalization of the community," Ball said.
This story was originally published by Matt Witkos on Scripps station WXMI in Grand Rapids, Michigan.