At the WCSU School Board meeting for April 4th, 2018, a student stood up from her chair, walked forward, and read a speech proposing that U-32 raise the Black Lives Matter Flag. She was a member of the student club BLAMM, which stands for ‘Black Latinos and Many More,’ and she identified racism as an issue at U-32.
“It’s not the biggest problem in our school,” she said, “but it is a hidden one.”
“It’s not about somebody’s lives mattering more than anyone else’s. It’s about my life mattering too.”
The school board was moved by the speech. Questions were raised. The board wanted more details on the time the flag would be up, and when the flag was going to be raised. Still, they voted unanimously to raise the flag, with details, including the date the flag would be raised, to be determined.
Some in our community support the decision but others have doubts. U-32’s decision is part of a larger national debate, and raises some hard questions.
Lessons From Montpelier
On February 1st, a sunny, cold day, a group of students at Montpelier High School raised a Black Lives Matter flag. The crowd behind them wasn’t just students, there were hundreds of people there – including many from the media. A plow truck blocked the entrance to the school parking lot in response to rumors that a white supremacist group was going to come and protest. In the next days, Montpelier became a national news story.
Montpelier’s decision was met with a lot of support, but also some backlash. Brian Ricca, Montpelier’s superintendent at the time, said the school received “… voicemails suggesting they take it down, and email messages described as ‘less than thoughtful.’”
But the administration felt sure about their decision.
“This is my third year here,” said Mike McRaith, the principal of MHS. “And within October of my first year, only two months into the job I was concerned about racist comments.”
The idea to raise the flag came from the school’s Racial Justice Alliance group, which had made a presentation where students of color described racist comments that they’ve heard at school.
“We are honoring the experience of our black students,” said Ricca, “we’re looking at this as a collective recognition that we can be a more inclusive community.”
Alongside the support for the flag, there was some backlash. Not everyone sees the Black Lives Matter organization positively. In response to an opinion piece, “A Question of Empathy” in the Times Argus, one commenter expressed concerns about the BLM movement.“The Black Lives mob has been seen on various news networks rioting, looting, assaulting the police with fire bombs, stopping traffic and pulling people from their cars to beat them bloody,” and “The mob just recently stopped traffic in Burlington which included two ambulances! Americans have a constitutional right to ‘freely associate’. The mob just denied them that right. They have no respect for anyone so why should we respect them?”
U-32 social studies teacher Glen Houston sat with the Chronicle to discuss the question of the BLM flag.
Houston identified one of the most important questions: “Is the Black Lives Matter flag a form of political expression?”
“If the answer is yes,” he said, “then they should probably not be flown on the flag poles of a public schools.”
“I think it is hard for people to debate clearly and rationally when there is emotion behind an issue,” Houston said.
He thinks that there should be more discussions, including a public debate where two people from different sides share their views.
“If the school board decides, that’s really the school deciding, not the students,” he said.
The board’s decision has raised questions among students about the school’s political views.
“It’s definitely saying it’s a liberal school,” student Mia Palmiero.
“It’s saying that this school stands with a particular party, the Black Lives Matter party,” she said. “School is supposed to be a place for diversity and inclusiveness, and if we make this school into a place that is inclusive, but only for people with liberal beliefs, it becomes not inclusive.”