A Petaluma elementary school’s pride flag was stolen. So 4 other schools raised flags of their own

Every morning, for much of the past year, three flags have been raised above Miwok Elementary School in east Petaluma – the U.S. flag, the California state flag and a pride flag.

Sometime in January, that changed. The school’s progress pride flag, supplementing the traditional rainbow stripes with a chevron recognizing BIPOC and transgender communities, went missing.

A police investigation was launched, but there are no leads, leaving concerned parents and school community members to speculate while also working to fashion a response to the jarring incident.

In the wake of what some school administrators have called a de-facto hate crime, the five elementary schools that comprise the eastside Old Adobe Union School District have come together to make a statement against the specter of hate that has loomed since mid-January.

The five campuses, and the district headquarters, each raised pride flags last week, the week before spring break, in a show of solidarity with Miwok Elementary School, its students and staff.

“The principals were uniformly passionate about the topic of the pride flag, and they wanted to stand in solidarity and make a statement to the community that all are welcome here,” said Interim Old Adobe Superintendent Kris Cosca, who assumed his role just two weeks ago.

Renee Ho, a parent of Old Adobe students and founder of the LGBTQIA+ nonprofit Amor Para Todos, helped lead the charge in pushing for a district-wide response. Reflecting on the progress, flags raised high across east Petaluma, and the letter of support signed by Cosca and each of five principals, Ho said she was pleased with how the district came together.

Although she acknowledged the theft of a pride flag isn’t the most serious offense, she also cautioned that even smaller injustices, left unanswered, can fester.

“What I advocated was that if we don’t make a statement, and make our community aware and educated about this, then that stealing of the pride flag can be the catalyst for even worse hate crimes,” Ho said.

Miwok Principal Mary Reynolds said processes for raising and lowering the flags got upset in the return to school after winter break, leading to the flags being left up overnight at least once.

In the aftermath, Ho provided an updated pride flag for the school – one that recognizes intersex people – and the school adopted a new process. Fourth graders, who have been learning about flag etiquette, are now in charge of raising and lowering the schools’ flags each morning and afternoon. It’s an honor Reynolds said may well follow this class of students through their sixth-grade year at Miwok.

“We came together as a community, and really have gained strength. We’re putting the flag back up, every day, year-round,” Reynolds said.

And the extra support from other schools – and the district – was an important reminder that the Old Adobe Union School District would come together to show support for a welcoming environment, Reynolds said.

Cosca agreed.

“We sent a strong message (last week) that all are welcome here,” Cosca said. “We see you, we care about you. You are important to us, and we’re here for you.”