A Costa Mesa, California, teacher has been removed from the classroom after posting a widely shared TikTok video about taking down the American flag and telling students they could pledge allegiance to a gay pride flag hanging in the room instead.
The Newport-Mesa Unified School District said it became aware of the video teacher Kristen Pitzen shared from her classroom at Back Bay High School on Friday and has since launched an investigation.
“We assure you that we take matters like this seriously,” the district said in a statement. “Showing respect for our nation’s flag is an important value that we instill in our students and an expectation of our employees.”
The district added that Pitzen is not teaching students while officials continue to investigate.
In the one-minute video, since deleted from TikTok, Pitzen says she removed the American flag from her classroom during the pandemic because it made her uncomfortable.
“I packed it away but I don’t know where, and I haven’t found it yet,” she says.
She says she tells her class, “Stand if you feel like it, don’t stand if you feel like it, say the words if you want. You don’t have to say the words.” But one student told her, “It’s kind of weird that we just stand and we say it to nothing.”
Pitzen says she told them she’d find it, but, “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 then points to a LBGTQ pride flag hanging in her classroom as she laughs.
KTLA reached out to Pitzen for comment but had yet to hear back Tuesday afternoon. KTLA also visited her apartment building in Long Beach Tuesday night and neighbors said she and her girlfriend had moved out due to death threats.
The school district’s policy requires that each school conducts daily patriotic exercises, including the pledge of allegiance, with an understanding that the pledge is an expression of patriotism and pride in the U.S. But individuals may choose not to participate in the flag salute for personal reasons.
On Tuesday, dozens of miniature American flags and a few gay pride flags were propped up around the school.
Michele Vaughn, a Mission Viejo resident who describes herself as a military mom, was among the people placing American flags.
“I’d like to share with her, if she doesn’t know, about the importance of respecting the flag,” Vaughn said. “I won’t disrespect her flag. I don’t think she should be disrespecting the flag of our country, and I think that it’s very poor judgment of her to make a video like that, especially three days after 13 of our service members were killed.”
KTLA has been unable to verify when exactly the video was posted.