Following a contentious three-hour meeting on Tuesday, the Pembroke School Committee unanimously rejected a proposal that would prohibit teachers from displaying gay Pride flags and symbols of political activism in classrooms.

Parents and students said they felt relieved after the 4-0 vote.

“We want our kids to be accepting and kind to everybody, and that is really what the Pride flag represents,” said Molly McKennea Kyle, a Pembroke parent who spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting. “To have it taken out of schools, I just can't imagine what that would do for the LGBTQ+ community.”

The decision to reject the measure included a vote by School Committee Chair Susan Bollinger, who introduced and drafted the policy but apparently changed her mind.

Bollinger cited instances where teachers have brought personal politics into the classroom.

“I've had a few complaints from parents who are uncomfortable with staff handing out pins, buttons or stickers to students to advocate for a specific cause,” she said at the meeting.

The proposal would have also barred staff from advocating for political candidates or social policy issues on school property. This also included advocating for particular groups through the use of flags, posters, buttons, jewelry and pins.

Bollinger denied claims that the policy was aimed at removing gay Pride flags specifically.

“Students during various high school awareness days were pressured by well-meaning teachers and staff to wear pins, buttons and certain colored shirts to show support for the cause,” she said.

Allyson Grey, a Pembroke parent, said the policy would not have fostered more neutrality, as Bollinger intended.

“It’s kind of ridiculous to me because you can't be neutral on any divisive issue,” she said. “As teachers, it’s their job is to present multiple sides equally, and that's what they've done in the past.”

Grey said Pembroke High School Principal Marc Talbot presented data at the meeting that the school had no complaints from students about teachers presenting biased information.

Committee member Patrick Chilcott criticized the proposal itself as activist and divisive.

“We are bringing a national agenda to Pembroke Public Schools and it's wrong,” he said.

Pembroke parent Elin Flashman, who has a child who identifies as LGBTQ+, said the policy would have been “very detrimental” to students who would have felt “erased” had it passed.

“There's enough kids facing depression, thoughts of suicide and not knowing who is safe for them,” he said “These are kids who are also facing it in their own homes, and sometimes school is able to provide them a space where they at least can be accepted.”

Pembroke parent Chris Ciano said the proposal didn't surprise him because of the town’s politics.

“About a year and a half ago, the town select board moved to dissolve a DEIA [Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility] committee, so this just seemed like an expected next step,” he said.

Ciano said the policy would have been harmful and hypocritical.

“For us to be beating the drum in schools and in our homes with our kids about bullying, equality, acceptance and tolerance, to then have them show up to school one day on and realize all the Pride flags are no longer here,” he said. “I think it would have sent a bad message to the kids who identified and got some support and comfort from those symbols.”

Ciano said he's proud of the school committee’s vote — that the hundreds of parents who attended the meeting to support educators' free expression sent a clear message to elected officials about the character of the town.

“There's very little interest in what happens at the town level, and I was just thrilled that so many people showed up,” he said.