Students Outraged at Confederate Banner at Miami-Dade Charter School

Most Americans (up North, at least) likely made it through high-school history class without their teacher flying a Confederate flag in the classroom. It's perfectly easy to teach kids about the pro-slavery Confederacy without draping the Rebel banner across the room.

But after a source sent New Times a photograph of a pretty intense Confederate banner hanging in a classroom at the Hialeah Gardens charter school Mater Academy, a spokesperson for the Florida Charter School Alliance claimed the "Keep It Flying" banner was simply a part of an advanced-placement history lesson.

Lynn Norman-Teck, executive director of the nonprofit alliance, which speaks on behalf of charter schools, told New Times via email that the "flag, along with images of heroes from the civil rights movement, were used as part of an AP American History class lesson" and that the flag was "not part of the classroom decor." Norman-Teck stressed that the photo was taken out of context and that the flag was placed on the wall only to spark discussion among the students.

However, current and former students told New Times that although the flag was placed on the wall as part of a lesson, the teacher has spouted far-right views before, including stating that the Confederacy was fighting for "states' rights" and that the North "should have lost" the war.

"If it would have been any other teacher, I would have given him or her the benefit of the doubt," said one former student, who spoke with New Times on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions from the school. "But coming from him, I really think he was just trying to 'trigger' kids. He legit used to call us 'snowflakes' all the time. He was really open about being a Libertarian." A second source with knowledge of the school's faculty also confirmed that the teacher in-question had made similar comments about the Confederacy.

The school's principal, Jose Nuñez, told New Times in an emailed statement that students were told in advance that they would be seeing upsetting imagery and that the flag was flown in order to spark conversation in the classroom. The principal wrote:

Traditionally, lessons about World War II often times show a swastika; lessons about the Holocaust feature images of the concentration camps; and discussions of the slave trade feature harrowing images of the oppression of slavery. The image of the flag was used in this context. An AP American History teacher used the image of the Confederate flag, along with pictures of heroes from the civil rights movement, as part of a lesson about the evils of racism and the history of the civil rights movement in the United States. The teacher gave each class period warning that they would see upsetting images. The goal was to educate, inform, and discuss race relations and civil rights as part of a high school curriculum, and put the flag’s history in context for students to understand – that includes explaining the flag’s 150-plus year history and its evolution from a confederate general’s army flag to a symbol of race oppression. As writer and philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The flag is not part of the classroom’s regular decor, and not representative of the sentiments of the school or teacher but rather used as an educational tool. 

A spokesperson for Miami-Dade Public Schools, which oversees county charter schools, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mater Academy is run by a company called Academica, which has strong ties to multiple state legislators in Miami. State Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. and Sen. Anitere Flores previously worked for Academica — and as of 2016, Flores still took a paycheck from a nonprofit closely tied to the company. A third lawmaker, former state Rep. Erik Fresen, also worked for Academica but left office in 2016 due to term limits. Fresen was subsequently sentenced to 60 days in jail for failing to file his 2011 tax return.

This is also not Mater's first brush with controversy. In 2017, another school in the chain was caught instructing students' parents to write letters supporting HB 7069, an unpopular charter-school-funding bill that public-school advocates wanted Gov. Rick Scott to veto. In exchange, Mater Academy Lakes administrators posted on the school website that students would receive a five-hour credit toward their "encouraged" volunteer hours.

In response to the photo of the Confederate banner, students posted online this week that they were not surprised to see the flag flying on Mater Academy's walls:

The former student who spoke with New Times also wondered why the teacher chose a banner that read, "Keep It Flying," as opposed to simply the flag itself.

"That's, like, a straight-up pro-Confederacy flag," the student said. "I've taken history classes and I've never seen the flag displayed like that."

Lynn-Teck, the spokesperson for the Charter School Alliance, however, simply encouraged any students offended by the lesson to report their concerns to the school's administration.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.