LGBTQ ‘Safe Zone’ stickers removed from NJ middle school

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I am a safe space rainbow sticker
I am a safe space rainbow sticker

Rainbow triangles to be replaced with panther mascot  

Since 2019, teachers of Long Valley Middle School have had LGBTQ “Safe Space” stickers hanging in classroom and office windows as a sign of LGBTQ acceptance. Four years later, Morris County school officials are now telling educators they must take them down. 

The stickers, which depict a triangular-shaped rainbow with the text “Safe Space” printed in the middle, were being used by teachers to indicate that their office or classroom was a space for all students to feel welcome. However, after parents and community members voiced concerns of bias back in December, the Washington Township School District decided the stickers must be removed. 

“Ultimately, the advice of legal counsel was to have them come down,” Superintendent Peter Turnamian said at the Jan. 3 Board meeting. “Two things that were of concern was the voluntary nature of how they were implemented and the idea that they did potentially expose us to appropriate criticism of point of view favoritism, which would then lead to potential, other challenging scenarios in the future.”  

During the same meeting, Turnamian announced a new initiative called “Portrait of a Panther,” a project that will replace the LGBTQ “Safe Space” stickers with a picture of the school’s mascot, an image Turnamian refers to as a “more common symbol.” Turnamian says the new symbol will be developed by students with feedback from the school community. 

“It was deemed the best way forward to launch this new initiative, which we are excited about,” he said. 

Garden State Equality Project Manager and Trainer, Justine Evyn Saliski, told News12 NJ that she’s disappointed to see the LGBTQ “Safe Space” stickers come down after parent complaints. “To be walking through your school and you see that sticker, it’s a small token of a reminder that it’s OK to be exactly who you are,” she said. 

In early Dec. 2022, when this conflict initially grew, parents, students, and faculty debated the importance of the “Safe Space” stickers at a Board meeting. One young student named Rose received applause from the audience as she stood to share her view. 

“​​I go to Long Valley Middle School, and as a lesbian and gender queer individual, I can say the LGBTQ+ community is constantly bullied and belittled in our school system,” she said. “The safe zone rainbow stickers let kids like me know that they are not alone despite their differences.” 

She continued, “The signs are not hurting anybody, and they are not imprinting on your children. They only promote love and accepting yourself for the way you are.” 

Steven Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, told NJ.com that students should feel welcome and safe in public school. He said the union would continue to advocate for equity, inclusion, and mutual understanding in the schools.

“We believe that it helps everyone when that value is expressed clearly and unambiguously,” he told NJ.com. “Students seem to understand that instinctively. Some adults apparently still need to catch up.”