U-46 board member: 'The flag means nothing more than toilet paper to me'

A school board member's Facebook post that the American flag "means nothing more than toilet paper to me" has sparked a flurry of online controversy.

In a Sept. 24 post on her personal Facebook page, Elgin Area School District U-46 board member Traci O'Neal Ellis wrote that she supports NFL players who kneel during the national anthem in protest of black people being shot by police and how minorities are treated by law enforcement. She also criticized President Donald Trump's swearing at NFL players, such as former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who disrespect the flag.

"I would #TakeAKnee at school board meetings if my doing so would not be disruptive to KIDS and a distraction to the work we need to do for THEM. But 45's remarks are nothing more than continued white nationalism at its finest. The flag means nothing more than toilet paper to me."

Ellis' comments went viral with people sharing screenshots of her original post and some calling for her resignation from the school board. She also received much support for her sentiments.

But among the critics was fellow U-46 board member Jeanette Ward, who has locked horns with Ellis in the past.

"Many patriotic Americans have shed their blood to defend the ideas and ideals America represents. To call it 'nothing more than toilet paper' is absolutely despicable and disgusting," Ward wrote along with posting a screenshot of Ellis' original post on her own public Facebook page.

"It is just incredibly, breathtakingly ungrateful and disgusting," Ward said. "The American flag is not a white nationalist symbol. It is the symbol of our country, and shouldn't an elected school board member respect the flag?"

Ward, though, isn't calling for Ellis' resignation. "The remedies for people who don't want to see her in the position based on her opinions is the 2019 elections," she said.

Ellis posted a rebuttal to Ward's criticism on her public Facebook page.

"The flag and the anthem are symbols in this country of freedom and 'justice and liberty' for all. Yet that is a blatant lie for black folks," she wrote.

The contentious debate seems limited to the internet, though. U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said the district received one phone call about the dust-up between the board members. Beyond that, he declined to comment.

The Facebook posts are not the first time Ellis and Ward have sparred. The pair butted heads on transgender students, with Ellis supporting a district decision to allow bathroom access for students based on the gender they identify with; Ward said birth gender should determine which bathrooms and locker rooms students use.

Ellis said she is not backing down from her position on the flag.

"I'm just the local version of what happens when black folks dare to take a stand and speak out. ... This is the public lynching that happens," Ellis said. She also noted she has received overwhelming support, though even some friends told her they wish she had left the flag part out.

"I do not regret it," Ellis said. "Clearly from the outrage nobody cares that I'm offended in this country every day. Isn't this the ideals that they believe this country stands for - the right to be able to have discourse about differing views? My opinion based on my expertise is not subject to really any debate."

Ellis said she would not resign from the school board, adding that she never has disrespected the flag and always stands during the Pledge of Allegiance before board meetings.

"The example I am setting for students is that you have a right in this country to peaceful protest," Ellis said. "You have freedom of speech in this country. You are not free from the consequences. The message that this sends to students is that when you stand up for truth as a marginalized person, a marginalized group, you will get backlash."

Jeanette Ward was among those who shared screen shots of fellow board member Traci Ellis' comments about the American flag.
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