By The Progressive on August 25, 2006
Colorado Geography Teacher Quits over Foreign Flag Dispute
By Matthew Rothschild

August 26, 2006

Eric Hamlin got off to a rough start at Carmody Middle School.

In the very first week of class, he got a letter of reprimand and was placed on administrative leave, as the Denver Post reported.

And even though the school quickly reinstated him, he has decided not to return, he tells The Progressive.

In the very first week of class, he got a letter of reprimand and was placed on administrative leave for insisting on his right to display foreign flags in his classroom. And even though the school quickly reinstated him, he has decided not to return.

Hamlin was hired to teach world geography to seventh graders at the school, which is in Jefferson County, Colorado. For the past eight years, he says he has taught in that district.

He prepared his classroom by displaying the flags of Mexico, China, and the United Nations, as he has in previous classes without incident, he says.

But when Assistant Principal Victoria Winslow came into his class on August 21, the day before school was to begin, and saw the flags, she told him to take them down.

“That surprised me and caught me off guard,” he says. “I asked her why I had to take them down, and she said it was Jefferson County School District policy. I said I’d had the flags up before in Jefferson County, and if that was the policy, I had some issues with it. She left, and about an hour later she returned and said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry I was wrong. It isn’t district policy. It’s actually state law,’ and handed me a copy of a Colorado state statute.”

That statute says: “Any person who displays any flag other than the flag of the United States of America or the state of Colorado or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or institutions upon any state, county, municipal, or other public building or adjacent grounds within this state commits a class 1 petty offense.”

There is an exception in the statute for “a temporary display of any instructional or historical materials not permanently affixed or attached to any part of the buildings.”

Hamlin says he read the statute and noticed “the last part about the temporary display” for educational purposes and pointed that out to Winslow. “But she felt the flags seemed permanent and said again that I needed to take them down.”

A little while later, Principal John Schalk came to see him. According to Hamlin, he said, “I hear we’re having some issues with flag. You need to understand that you have to take them down. Now.”

Hamlin refused. “I told him I wanted to have the flags up so the students could observe them and reference them and ask questions about them,” he says. “He informed me I was insubordinate. I agreed with that. However, I told him I thought there was a bigger issue here. So he told me there would be further disciplinary action.”

Hamlin was allowed to teach on August 22, but at the end of the day, he was called down to Principal Schalk’s office. “He presented me with a letter of reprimand,” Hamlin says. If Hamlin wanted to return in good standing, the letter said he would have to agree to “not display any flag of any foreign nation,” Hamlin recalls. “And I had to receive administrative approval for any display I was putting up in my classroom.”

Hamlin says he told Schalk that he “could not morally comply” with those terms.

The next day, shortly after Hamlin arrived at school, Schalk handed him a letter placing him on administrative leave.

After the Denver Post and Huffingtonpost and other media outlets got a hold of the story, Hamlin met with some county and school officials to see if they could work out an agreement.

“What we eventually agreed to was that I would be able to have the flags up on a rotational basis, with 12 weeks being the longest, which is how I use the flags anyway,” Hamlin says.

But before agreeing to go back, Hamlin wanted to meet with the principal and other school administrators, which he did on August 24.

And he wanted to consult with other faculty members to see what the school atmosphere was like.

“I had my confidence shaken in the school administration’s ability to back me in certain situations,” he says.

The teachers he spoke with warned him that “a lot of people in the school don’t like what you’ve done, they think you’re trying to rip the school apart,” he says.

Hamlin says he asked for a day to decide what to do.

On August 25, he chose to leave.

“I came to the decision that it would probably be best for me, for the students, and for Carmody Middle School if I moved on,” he says.

Hamlin hopes to work for the district in one capacity or another.

“We’re looking into a possible transfer,” he says.

Hamlin says he bears no ill will toward Principal Schalk. In fact, he feels bad for him. “He’s getting just scathing e-mails,” he says. “Many of them are very unfair, calling him Nazi and things like that.”

“The principal thought it was a reasonable interpretation of the statute” to ask Hamlin to remove the flags, Lynn Setzer, executive director of communications for Jefferson County Public Schools, tells The Progressive. “The subject matter was longitude and latitude.”

For a while there, Setzer believed the matter was settled and that Hamlin was returning to class.

“He was cleared to go back to the class,” she told me on Friday morning. “From the district’s standpoint, the matter has been resolved.”

But that was before Hamlin decided not to return.

“We’re working to try to find him a new assignment based on his request, certainly not ours,” Setzer now says.

Mark Silverstein, legal director for the Colorado ACLU, questions the validity of the state statute and the school’s interpretation of it.

“I have a hard time understanding how the state of Colorado’s interests are threatened by someone displaying a foreign flag in some state building,” he says. “Especially by a geography teacher using foreign flags as part of the instruction about different parts of the world.

The statute itself represents legislative overreaction to a nonproblem, and the principal’s decision was an overreaction to the statute.”

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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