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4J Flag Directive

4J District administration under fire for ordering the removal of a Palestine flag from a Spencer Butte Middle School classroom 

On March 18, a Spencer Butte Middle School math teacher hung a scarf stylized as a Palestine flag from the wall of his classroom. An order to remove the flag — and a threat of losing his job — led to a flurry of public comments at the April 3 Eugene District 4J School Board meeting. 

 Jenoge Sora Khatter  tells Eugene Weekly that a 4J administrator said that removing the flag was the only acceptable response to their directive, which was delivered to him on March 20. Khatter says he was threatened with termination for non-compliance with the order. 

“I put up the flag to draw attention to that part of the world and those people and the experiences being had,” Khatter says. “As a math teacher, I knew that I was not going to be engaging in depth on those topics day-to-day with my students as part of instruction, but to draw attention and to show that I cared.” 

Khatter, who has a doctorate in education, says that he believes the administration’s reasoning behind ordering the flag’s removal was at its core “a concern that it would put distance or friction into relationships with students and families being served by the school.”

EW received a copy of the directive. It says, “Students have expressed to me that they feel as if they are being mocked by you as students who identify as Jewish. In addition there has been a parent request to remove a student from your class during this time while the Palestinian flag is displayed.”

On Wednesday, April 3, a crowd of 4J parents and local citizens filled the school board meeting, some carrying signs in support of Palestine and donning Palestinian scarves and colors. Many were in attendance to express support for Khatter and ask the district to enact a policy allowing the display of the Palestine flag. 

Nellie Schmitke-Rosiek, the South Eugene High School student representative on the board, spoke first, expressing her perspective on the district’s removal of the flag. 

“I believe this response is problematic for a number of reasons. This is a complicated issue. I have no doubt that some people genuinely are having feelings of discomfort about a Palestinian flag being displayed in the room,” Schmitke-Rosiek said. “I also believe that silence about the suffering of the Palestinian people is a source of discomfort for others. More significantly, the silence enables the violence causing the suffering.” 

Schmitke-Rosiek also said that, from her perspective, prohibiting the display of the flag and gesture of solidarity is a form of “hidden curriculum.”

“Removing that flag communicates to 4J students, not just at Spencer Butte, that this is a topic that we can’t talk about, that we shouldn’t talk about, that there is something taboo about the Palestinian flag, and that sympathy with Palestinian suffering is somehow wrong or out of bounds,” Schmitke-Rosiek said. 

Schmitke-Rosiek’s sentiments were followed by a booming round of applause from the majority of the audience. 

On April 3, the Eugene Islamic Center also released a letter that says, “We at the Eugene Islamic Center stand in support and solidarity with our brother Jenoge Sora Khatter in the exercise of his right to express, inform and educate his students with a display of the national flag of Palestine.”

Following the letter threatening discipline over the flag in his classroom, Khatter isn’t just aiming to put his Palestine flag back up. 

“I’m hoping for a policy change that flags of all tribes and nations would be allowed in schools as protected symbols,” Khatter says. “We should not be afraid of national and tribal symbols. We should be open to, especially in school environments, the diversity of human experience, human expression and identity.” 

Khatter says he hopes his flag will be back up in his classroom by the end of the year.

Following the April 3 Board meeting, 4J Board Chair Maya Rabasa issued a written statement to EW

“We have committed to conduct a comprehensive review of the relevant policy,” it says. “As a publicly elected body, we are compelled to conduct all business in public, noticed meetings so all work around this review will take place in a space accessible to any community members who are interested in following this process.”

She says the board was “very moved by the community input” and by the large number of people who showed up to the meeting. “We feel honored to be trusted by the community’s stories and their expressions of concern. We are incredibly lucky to serve in a community that cares so deeply about our students and our staff. Wednesday’s meeting was a profound reminder of that care in which we are immersed.”  

Public notices and agendas of upcoming 4J board meetings are at , 4j.lane.edu/boardmeetings along with recordings of previous meetings.