The Cook County School District is investigating after it received " a number of complaints" about the district's morning announcements on Jan. 14, which apparently featured a comic version of the Gadsden flag that referenced face masks.
The district did not elaborate on what the complaints were about, only that something in the morning announcements "caused a great deal of concern and discomfort in our community," according to a letter to the district community from Acting Superintendent Megan Myers.
The morning announcements for Jan. 14 have been removed from the district's YouTube page, but Cook County Schools Assistant Principal Mitch Dorr did address the incident during his announcements the next day (Jan. 15).
Dorr said the Gadsden flag, in the form of a comic – "it had a little bit of a joke context," he said – was posted on his bulletin board, which was visible during the morning announcements on Jan. 14 (it had been removed by Jan. 15).
He didn't say what the joke was, but according to a Facebook post found by the Duluth News Tribune, the Gadsden flag comic that was on Dorr's bulletin board depicted the snake wearing a mask with the phrase "Don't let the mask become a muzzle." Those who oppose masking during the COVID-19 pandemic have compared masks to muzzles, the Washington Post said.
"As some of you know, I taught history," Dorr said during the announcements. "And part of the Gadsden flag was invented during the Revolutionary War and it was pressuring colonies to join together to fight the British."
The Gadsden flag features a rattlesnake on a yellow background and the words "don't tread on me." More than a decade ago, the Tea Party movement began using the Gadsden flag as a protest symbol. More recently, it's been used by far-right groups, including during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
"So, I didn't realize some of the more present-day context would come out in that, so I totally apologize to anybody who took that wrong, that flag wrong, I know that it's got more negative connotations in today's era, in today's world, and that was certainly not my intention," he added "... Definitely didn't even think of that kind of context in any way. My apologies to anybody who was offended by that part of the snake that was on that comic and it's been taken down."
Meanwhile, the district is conducting an investigation into the incident.
"Our school district is currently having an independent investigation conducted into this matter. Due to the pending investigation and data privacy issues involved, the school district cannot comment further on the investigation at this time," the letter states.
The district would not confirm any other details about the incident to the Duluth News Tribune or whether Dorr has been placed on administrative leave.