Rio Americano High School teacher on leave over displaying Nazi flag in classroom

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — The San Juan Unified School District is addressing parent and student outrage over a Rio Americano High School English teacher displaying a Nazi war flag during class.

School district officials said last Friday several German flags were removed from a classroom after a student came forward, saying they were uncomfortable seeing a swastika hanging freely.

“Having this symbol there had a real deep impact on our students and that is what we want to avoid,” district spokeswoman Raj Rai said.

On May 13, a student told the school administration they were feeling disheartened by what was being displayed inside their teacher’s classroom.

Shortly after, others came forward with the same concern, but it’s unclear how long the flag was up for before administration was notified.

“The teacher is an English teacher and a social science teacher, so teaching classes like geography, world history, the teacher has used flags as an instructional tool in prior lessons in the classroom, including a flag from Nazi Germany,” Raj said.

A picture showing several German flags, including one with a Nazi symbol, was posted by a student-run account on Instagram.

The flags were taken down last Friday but Rai said Rio Americano has a history with racist and antisemitic incidents.

“There have been instances at Rio Americano in past years where there has been a swastika, I believe on a football field,” Rai said. “There’s that systemic racism not just in our district but in every organization that needs to do the work and make things happen.”

The district has now established an 8-Point Commitment to Educational Justice System, saying, “San Juan Unified commits to a more just and more equitable society, free of racism and other forms of prejudice. We are committed to the ideals of anti-racist and social justice-oriented education.”

The SJUSD school board president also released a statement in response to the flag.

The Governing Board believes it is important to view controversial issues as essential to a well balanced educational program. Our Board Policy regarding controversial issues states that students should have opportunities to discuss controversial issues which have political, social or economic significance and which the students are mature enough to investigate and address. 

However, the Nazi flag isn’t just a historical artifact relegated to history – it is a physical manifestation of real and current symbol of hate and bigotry that, unfortunately, is still alive today. It inflicts real and immediate pain in our community and is not necessary to teach a lesson. 

I have received and seen many comments from parents and community members questioning why this is an issue and why it is not ok to have a physical Nazi flag hanging as part of a lesson, which I find very concerning.  

There are many ways to teach a history lesson – hanging a Nazi flag in a classroom is not an appropriate way to teach about the holocaust, just like a noose is not a way to teach about slavery. More effective and compassionate lessons include hearing stories from holocaust survivors, learning about children during the holocaust – there are many ways to teach this critical piece of history that make a strong impact and do not inflict harm on our community.  

While we are focused on our racial justice and equity work, there are always reminders that we still have a lot of work to do and this is one of them. We will remain steadfast in that work. 

While the school district recognizes the educational purpose of the flag, Rai said they have a zero-tolerance policy for any students or teachers who brandish symbols of hate.

“We don’t want to downplay the importance of what happened in the Holocaust and in WWII, and the effects on a lot of people. What we do want to eliminate is that symbol in the classroom,” Rai said. “In this instance, it was being used as an instructional tool. It’s the impact that having that displayed in the classroom and the impact it had on our students is what concerns us.”

Rai said this teacher is currently on administrative leave as the investigation continues and the district will go over policies and provide more training with SJUSD teachers.

In the meantime, the principal will be reaching out to parents to go over what happened and the district will be establishing an equity task force for students and teachers.

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