The U-32 School Board sat in a semicircle, with printed agendas and coffee on their tables. The meeting had just begun, and the most controversial topic was already being addressed. A parent stepped forward.
“What gives any one of you the right to make a law on paper of what’s right and what’s not?” he asked. “Why isn’t there a higher authority over every school, to have it black and white, so that it’s equal?”
This is just one of many questions that remain unanswered, almost four months after the Black Lives Matter flag was raised at U-32 on June 4th. After a group of students proposed raising an All Lives Matter flag on June 6th, it became clear that a flag policy was needed to handle these requests.
On Wednesday night, September 26th, the U-32 School Board discussed a potential policy to handle requests for future flags. The policy remains unfinished.
Though only one student was present in the audience during the meeting, the Board discussed the views of students using results from a survey conducted in all Democratic Roots classes. Every tenth grader took it, making it a representative cross-section of the student body. Here are some of the results:
A strong majority of the tenth grade class supported the raising of the Black Lives Matter flag. However, almost a quarter of students did not, and this significant minority still felt strongly about the decision.
For each of the following results, students responded on the following scale:
1 – strongly disagree
2 – disagree
3 – agree
4 – strongly agree
Almost three-quarters of the student body either disagree or strongly disagree that the flag should be in the atrium instead of on the flagpole.
Ginger Knight, a member of BLAMM, the student group that raised the flag, shared her opinion about why it shouldn’t be moved.
“When there’s sporting events, people won’t be able to come in and see [the flag],” Knight said. “Walking into the school every morning seeing the flag on the pole shows that we’re a supportive school, whereas if it’s hanging inside it takes away the meaning.”
Students had more favorable, but mixed opinions about the installation of a separate flagpole.
Many people believe that a separate flagpole would diffuse tension regarding the flag, but it would also weaken the statement. One issue surrounding the idea is cost, with people discussing a figure around six thousand dollars.
Over three fourths of the tenth grade class (77.4%) either agree or strongly agree that students should have the chance to vote about which flags are flown. 22.5% of students think students should not vote on the flags that are flown.
At the board meeting, Principal Steven Dellinger-Pate shared his concerns with voting.
“We run the risk of the minority voice never being heard in that situation,” he said, adding that checks and balances must be present in a voting system to ensure everyone is heard.
Ania Kehne, a sophomore who took the survey, had a different opinion.
“Students generally feel a bit frustrated with almost a feeling of silence. They feel like things are being introduced very quickly without much consideration of their view,” Kehne said. “We want to be able to vote so that we know what’s happening.”
Tim Frazier, a parent at the meeting, shared Dellinger-Pate’s resistance to voting, but for a different reason. “They’re not 18. Their vote really shouldn’t count…. I still tell [my child] what time to come home.”
So what’s next? With a self-imposed deadline of October 24th rapidly approaching, the Board must come up with a flag policy as soon as possible. All board meetings are public, and community members with strong feelings or who are interested in the flag policy are encouraged to attend. The policy is expected to be under discussion at the next meeting, which is October 24th at 7pm.
With so many questions still unanswered, the community remains polarized. Board member George Gross reminded those at the meeting to keep the issue in perspective.
“We have gotten so caught up in a piece of cloth.”