There are just over 160 students at Back Bay/Monte Vista High School, a small alternative education high school in Orange County. But one teacher's video about how she handles the Pledge of Allegiance in her classroom is making waves far outside the school's walls.
The sign for the high school was surrounded by dozens of small American flags on Monday, looking like a Memorial Day display. All of the red, white and blue was in response to a TikTok video posted by teacher Kristan Pitzen.
She tells her students they can stand or sit, say the words or not, during their daily announcements and Pledge of Allegiance.
"So my class decided to stand and not say the words… totally fine," Pitzen says in her viral video about her approach to the Pledge.
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She goes on to explain that there is no American flag in the room where she teaches.
"It used to be there, but I took it down during COVID because it made me uncomfortable," she says in the video. But one day, a student commented on the lack of flag.
"But my kid today goes, 'Hey, it's kind of weird that we just stand and we say it to nothing,'" Pitzen said, adding that she told the student she is working on finding it.
"In the meantime, I do have a flag you can pledge your allegiance to. And he looks around and goes… oh that one?"
Pitzen then pans across her classroom to a pride flag tacked to the wall.
Early Monday morning, a small rally was held in front of the school as people gathered to show support for the American flag.
"Just super disgusted," parent Stephanie Cox said in reaction to the video. "I just could not believe how ignorant she seemed to be."
Outraged parents have been asking the Newport Mesa Unified School District to discipline Pitzen. They responded, in part: "Showing respect for our nation’s flag is a value that we instill in our students and an expectation of our employees. The teacher is no longer in the classroom."
There is an ongoing investigation.
A spokesperson told NBC News that the district has a policy regarding flags, requiring each school to conduct daily "patriotic exercises."
Those include reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and "may also include instruction that promotes understanding of the concepts of 'pledge,' 'allegiance,' 'republic,' and 'indivisible' and understanding of the importance of the pledge as an expression of patriotism, love of country, and pride in the United States."
It adds that individuals may choose not to participate in the flag salute for personal reasons. A policy about displaying the American flag requires it to be flown "at the entrance or on the grounds of the school," NBC News reported, but does not mention the flag's display in individual classrooms.
Also tucked away among the American flags outside the school Monday were a handful of rainbow flags, and a sign saying "Liberty for all."
One pride flag was initially covering one of the American flags, prompting parent Julieanne Papa to call the school, then remove the pride flag from the poster with Cox and place it nearby.
"I’m all in support of the pride community, but it doesn’t belong taped over the American flag so I just put it next to it," said Cox.
"Yes, I think [the teacher] should be removed from classroom," said Papa. "I think fired and removed from school district."
"When I saw the video I was sad that an educator was doing that," she added.
Pitzen, the teacher, did not reply to calls from News4 asking for her response to the situation. The school district will not say what her status is, or will be in the future.