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Newport-Mesa Unified School District, teacher under fire for social media post rejecting flag

Small American flags are placed around the Back Bay and Monte Vista High School marquee sign.
Small American flags are placed around the Back Bay and Monte Vista High School marquee sign on Tuesday. A teacher at Back Bay High School posted a controversial video on TikTok and in response, members of the community came out to plant American flags on campus.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A Newport-Mesa Unified teacher is “no longer in the classroom” after a social media post about her removing the U.S. flag and suggesting students instead pledge allegiance to an LGBTQ pride flag went viral, causing an uproar in the school community.

“We are aware that one of our teachers posted a video on their personal social media that caused alarm and concern related to saluting the American flag,” district officials said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “Showing respect for our nation’s flag is an important value that we instill in our students and an expectation of our employees. The teacher is no longer in the classroom.”

“We follow due process and our investigation continues,” it said.

District sources confirmed the woman in the now-deleted TikTok post is Kristin Pitzen, a teacher at Back Bay High School.

Small American flags are placed around the Back Bay and Monte Vista High School marquee.
Small American flags are placed around the Back Bay and Monte Vista High School marquee and power pole on Tuesday. A teacher at Back Bay High School posted a controversial video on TikTok and in response, members of the community came out to plant American flags on campus.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

In the post, Pitzen appears to be filming from inside her own classroom.

“OK, so during third period, we have announcements, and they do the Pledge of Allegiance,” Pitzen says in the video. “I always tell my class: Stand if you feel like it. Don’t stand like if you feel like it. Say the words if you want. You don’t have to say the words. So, my class decided to stand but not say the words. Totally fine. Except for the fact that my room does not have a flag.”

Pitzen then points to the corner of her classroom’s whiteboard, indicating where the flag used to be located. She then says she took down the flag while she was teaching during the pandemic because it made her feel “uncomfortable” and didn’t know where it was anymore.

“But my kid today goes, ‘Hey, it’s kind of weird that we just stand and we say it to nothing.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh well, I gotta find it. I’m working on it. I got you,’” she says, before immediately shaking her head no. “In the meantime, I tell this kid, ‘We do have a flag in the class that you can pledge your allegiance to.’”

“And he like, looks around and goes, ‘Oh, that one?’” Pitzen says.

The video then cuts to the rainbow pride flag.

Criticism and backlash to Pitzen’s video, which was reposted to an account called “Libs on TikTok” after the original post was apparently removed, was swift online. A tweet acknowledging the incident from the district’s official account received more than 1,000 replies as of Monday, many condemning Pitzen’s actions as “indoctrination” and disrespectful to the American flag.

Students leave for the day at Back Bay High School on Tuesday.
Students leave for the day at Back Bay High School on Tuesday. A teacher posted a controversial video on TikTok and in response, members of the community came out to plant American flags on campus.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Many called for her firing while others doubted any action would be taken because of the influence of teachers unions. Others criticized the district for describing the post as “personal” as it was filmed in a classroom on a public school campus.

Meanwhile, parents and others in the local school community rallied at the Costa Mesa campus where Pitzen had been teaching. On Monday afternoon, a cluster of small American flags — and two rainbow-colored pride flags — had been placed around the school’s monument sign.

One poster, staked into the grass surrounding the sign, bore the words to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Newport-Mesa officials said all classrooms throughout the district are provided with one flag apiece. District policy states patriotic activities — including the Pledge of Allegiance — should occur at all schools daily but stipulates individuals are allowed to not participate for personal reasons, if they choose.

Small American flags are placed around the Back Bay and Monte Vista High School marquee sign.
Small American flags are placed around the Back Bay and Monte Vista High School marquee sign on Tuesday. A teacher at Back Bay High School posted a controversial video on TikTok and in response, members of the community came out to plant American flags on campus.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The policy also requires both the American flag and the state flag of California to be displayed during school days at the entrance or on the grounds of every one of the district’s campuses.

Costa Mesa moms Stephanie Cox and Julieanne Papa, who themselves attended Newport-Mesa Unified schools and now both have children in the district, on Monday said educators should abide by educational policies. The pair came by the flag display at Back Bay during the afternoon to remove a pride flag they saw taped over the poster and relocate it nearby in the grass.

They said people in the NMUSD community are sharing the now-removed video and talking about what happened and how they feel about it. Papa said she was disgusted to hear Pitzen’s comments, while Cox said she couldn’t believe such a thing would happen here.

“We live in a free country, so people can do what they want, but they should be respectful of others,” Papa said. “It’s like they’re pushing their own agenda on these kids, and it’s their personal view, nothing they should be teaching in school.”

“I’m in full support of the pride community, but I don’t compare the pride flag to the American flag — they’re apples and oranges,” Cox said. “Have the pride flag, but we’re not saying the Pledge of Allegiance to it. That’s for the flag of the United States of America.”

Students leave for the day at Back Bay High School on Tuesday.
Students leave for the day at Back Bay High School on Tuesday. A teacher posted a controversial video on TikTok and in response, members of the community came out to plant American flags on campus.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Cox on Monday morning noticed a small crowd of people standing outside on Monte Vista Avenue holding a giant U.S. flag and waving to motorists, who showed their support by honking horns as they passed.

“I saw it as I was coming by, so I got in the turn lane and honked and said, ‘Thank you for doing that,’” she said.

Requests for comment from the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers and Pitzen did not immediately receive a response.

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