LOS ANGELES — An LGBTQ+ flag placed in a plant pot outside of a classroom at Saticoy Elementary School was lit on fire and the flag was destroyed, and it is being investigated as a possible hate crime after being discovered on Monday, May 29, according to LAPD.
The school has been the focus of a group of parents who are objecting to an upcoming Pride Day assembly on Friday, June 2, at which the school plans to teach children about LGBTQ+ identities during a book reading.
The fire incident at the school is being investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department, said Deputy Chief Alan Hamilton of the Valley Bureau. “The investigation is ongoing. It is a vandalism hate crime. The hate crime is still significant but it is a misdemeanor,” he said on May 27.
The blackened planter and burned flag were discovered by school personnel on Monday at 6:30 a.m., Hamilton said. He did not know when the planter and flag were burned and there are no suspects, he said.
Conservative parents with children enrolled at the school last week posted their objections on social media to the upcoming school assembly and book reading on June 2, asking parents to boycott the event and “keep their children home and innocent” that day. The group passed out flyers in the neighborhood with a similar message.
The group, Saticoy Elementary Parents, says on its Instagram page that the school has a significant population of Armenian and Hispanic families who “share conservative values” and “don’t feel this material is appropriate to teach to the children.”
Ana, a parent in the group who asked that her last name not be published in the interest of her family’s safety, said she does not believe any member of the group is responsible for the possible hate crime.
“None of us parents are aware of who the person might have been who set the flag on fire,” she said. “None of us would jump the fence or set the flag on fire because we don’t want to bring that negativity to the school where our children are.”
Ana said she wants to make clear that the parent group is not anti-LGBTQ+, but is made up of parents who feel that the book reading, that is in part about LGBTQ+ parents, is not an age appropriate subject for grade school students.
According to LAUSD, the assembly will include a reading of The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman, which describes family types including multi-cultural families, multi-racial families, single parent families and families with LGBTQ+ parents.
“We have a real concern over what is going on,” said Renato Lira, director of the San Fernando Valley LGBTQ Center. “We have three teachers who are LGBTQ at that campus. And two parents are LGBTQ who bring their kids to that school.”
He said volunteers from the center will walk alongside the LGBTQ parents en route to school on June 2. and LAPD will be present.
The parents who object to the book-reading assembly on June 2 will also be present, handing out flyers and encouraging parents to take their children home.
Lira would not name the teacher who placed the flag in the planter that was later burned. He said his group and the teacher are now working to drape a larger LGBTQ+ flag on the teacher’s classroom window. “We raised that flag to let them know we are going to be stronger and united,” he said.
He said whoever burned the flag showed disrespect for LGBTQ parents, teachers and the community. “They should not be doing that, whoever they are,” he said.
The argument over whether Saticoy Elementary School students should be taught about different sexual identities such as LGBTQ+ parents is part of a tense national debate.
In March 2022, Florida passed a ban on teaching sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. In April, the Florida Board of Education expanded this ban, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay Law,” to apply to all grade levels. Similar laws are in the works, or have passed, in more than a dozen other states.
The California state legislature has adopted laws intended to uphold rights of LGBTQ youth. Senate Bill 48, passed in 2012, requires all public schools to include LGBTQ+ history in social studies curriculum. The California Healthy Youth Act enacted in 2016 requires schools to teach about sexual orientations and gender identity.
Meanwhile, threats of violence against the LGBTQ+ community are on the rise according to a briefing document supplied by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and distributed to law enforcement agencies on May 11. The DHS memo said that domestic violence extremists and those who commit hate crimes have increased threats of violence against the LGBTQ+ community in the last year.
“These issues include actions linked to drag-themed events, gender-affirming care, and LGBTQIA+ curricula in schools,” according to the DHS document.
An LAUSD spokesperson said the district is committed to creating a safe and inclusive learning environment that reflects and embraces the diverse population it serves.
“As part of our engagement with school communities, our schools regularly discuss the diversity of the families that we serve and the importance of inclusion,” LAUSD said in a statement. “This remains an active discussion with our school communities and we remain committed to continuing to engage with families about this important topic.”
The parent group at Saticoy Elementary School who oppose the book reading was also active in opposing the school district’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. In October 2021 about a dozen staff and parents held an anti-vaccine protest outside the school.
(Southern California News Group staff writer Clara Harter contributed to this article.)