U-32’s Hate Symbol Ban: 32 Voices

Editor’s Note: This piece includes reporting and editing from many members of the Chronicle including Emily Hunt, Molli Brown, Ella Lyford, Jenna Mekkelsen, Noah McLane, Harmon Ohalon, Bailey Morse, Cameron Edson, Claire Thompson, Jasmine Toro, Nora Dillon, Evan Hinchliffe, Eva Jessup, and Madison O’Kelly.

A few yards away from our current flagpole, four snow-dusted orange cones connected with yellow caution tape mark the beginning of construction on a new flagpole. The newer and taller flagpole will fly the American and Vermont flags. The Black Lives Matter flag will remain on the current flagpole, which will become a flagpole reserved for the flags of student groups. 

According to Jody Emerson, the decision to build a new flagpole was a result of concerns brought to the school by community members. Some felt that it is improper flag etiquette to fly the BLM flag on the same pole as the American flag. 

The U-32 school board discussed the issue last year and two solutions were suggested: display the BLM flag somewhere else, such as the Atrium, or put up a second flagpole. The decision was ultimately left up to the U-32 administration.

The school’s decision to relegate the BLM flag to a pole dedicated only to student groups has not been received well by everyone. Bruce Pandya recently wrote an editorial calling the new flagpole “cowardice of the highest order”.

The heated discourse about the new flagpole is just a glimpse into the dialogue that has been taking place at U-32 over the past two years revolving around the boundaries of student activism and the school’s role in political divides. 

 

Read:

U-32’s Confederate Flag Debate      June 2019

“You can’t let them be consuming”: Hate Symbols at U-32  April 2019

“Walking a fine line”: Politics in the Classroom  April 2019

Did the Chronicle Cross the Line? The Limits of Free Speech November 2018

“It’s a double-edged sword”: U-32’s Flag Policy Debate September 2018

The Black Lives Matter Flag: 24 Voices June 2018

U-32’s BLM Flag: The Story So Far April 2018

“I felt everyone looking at me”: Students of Color March 2018

 

This collection of perspectives explores the most recent chapter of the discussion: the debate about the proposed ban on hate symbols like the Confederate Flag at U-32. 

At its November 6th meeting, the school board seemed reluctant to support the most recent proposed ban from Seeking Social Justice (SSJ). The board policy committee is meeting with SSJ Tuesday, November 26 for further discussion.

**Update 12/5/2019

The school board rejected the ban and proposed this resolution instead:

“WCSUUD strives to create a learning environment conducive to student achievement, creativity, and exploration. An environment in which students use their opportunities to experience their power to experience their power to create and change themselves and their environment. Hate symbols indefensibly dishonor those goals. Yet, free speech values protect, but do not extol, the right to be wrong. Censorship may punish or suppress hurtful speech but it does not change minds.

 

To unwaveringly protect all student’s rights to a conducive educational environment, it is the policy of the WCSUUD Board that administrative officials vigorously and promptly enforce our Prevention of Harassment, Hazing, and Bullying Policy to thwart and respond to the undeniably harmful effects with which hate symbols sully our educational policy”

 

 

[showhide type=”14″ more_text=” The Proposed Ban” less_text=”close”]

In the interest of creating a safe, inclusive, equitable learning environment in our district, Seeking Social Justice at U-32 proposes that the following or equivalent language be added or amended to the Prevention of Harassment, Hazing and Bullying Policy (C10).

Hate Symbols 

The display, transmission, or dissemination by any means, in a non-educational context, of any hate symbol(s) will be considered as a violation of the WCUUSD policy on The Prevention of Harassment,Hazing and Bullying (C10) regardless of the stated intent of the individual displaying said symbol. 

 

“Hate symbol” means any symbol which either exists to provoke or express racial hatred, violence, white supremacist ideologies, or similarly incendiary and hateful sentiment towards any other group or groups, or which is commonly used for the previously stated purpose, or which is used by an individual for the previously stated purpose.

 

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[showhide type=”1″ more_text=”1. Elizabeth Marks’ Class 4 US History Class” less_text=”close”]

Elizabeth’s B4 class quietly whisper to each other, their voices travel down the long narrow room. The tables are set up in a horseshoe shape, with a stool at the top of it where Elizabeth sits. The class is studying the civil war unit, and Elizabeth took time out of her class to have the chronicle come and have a discussion with her class about the proposed hate symbol ban. There is a wide variety of people in her class, some have big opinions and some are very quiet and don’t say much. 

 

Anonymous: “People should be able to wear what they want. I don’t think that the Confederate flag specifically indicates that they are for slavery. If you are offended by the flag try to ignore it. U-32 put up the black lives matter flag, and now kids are using the confederate flag as a backlash. People should have the right to wear what they want to wear.”

 

Ruby Singer (junior): “School is an environment where everyone is supposed to feel safe. If something (the confederate flag) makes someone not feel safe, then it should be up for discussion.”

 

Haidyn Pierce (junior): “I don’t care what side of the spectrum you are on between liking and not liking the flag, I believe that everyone should be treated equally. In a situation like this we are at school. The school should make it so that nobody can bring that stuff, whether it’s a black lives matter flag or a confederate flag and even a trump flag. We definitely can’t pick one side over another. I feel like we should either get rid of it all, or we should let everybody mind their own business.”

 

Anonymous: “I’m not leaning toward one side or another, I can see both sides. With the confederate flag I can see how with some people it is a war flag. A lot of people wear it for their heritage and families. A lot of those families don’t know what they were fighting for, there were also some that did. With the black lives matter flag a lot of people take it the wrong way. If we are going to do something we should get rid of it all or people can mind their own business.”

 

Renee Robert (senior): “With the black lives matter flag and Confederate flag I feel like there would not be one without the other. If you feel so strongly about something you believe in, you should be able to express yourself however you want without anyone telling them differently. That goes for absolutely everything, not just with flags with how you dress. If you’re wearing the flag, it shouldn’t matter because you don’t know what it means to someone else. You shouldn’t judge them if you don’t know what it means to them individually.”

 

Anonymous: “Whatever we do there is going to be people against it.”

 

Haidyn Pierce (junior): “Everybody has their own story, and it is something that we can learn or teach in our schools so that everyone has a better understanding. Everyone has their own reason and we need to learn not to judge people for what their reason is.”

 

Anonymous: “I haven’t had a lot to say about this in the past because I hadn’t really understood it personally, I think if you are going to ban something like this you would have to go through some discussions to see if doing so would be the right thing to do. Instead of banning it we should use it as a learning opportunity and teach everyone about it.”

 

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[showhide type=”2″ more_text=”2. Seeking Social Justice Advisor Meg Allison” less_text=”close”]

Meg Alison is a librarian at U-32. She is a founder and teacher advisor of Seeking Social Justice. She got involved in the group in August 2016, during her second year at U-32. “There was a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville Virginia. This is where neo nazi’s and white supremecists and KKK members were marching in the streets”. At this time there were many fights, one of which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, an advocate for civil rights, who was hit by a car. This same car killed many other people. 

Meg had started seeing things going on in U-32 as well. “On the first day of school, Zak Kline was giving a speech in front of the students,” she said. “He welcomed everyone in, and said ‘I’m not gonna talk about what I was gonna talk about because I heard the N-word on the bus today.’” After this event, Meg was inspired to start Seeking Social Justice. She realized that people needed to talk about things, like injustices in the community, because they were bubbling up in other forms. 

Since the group began, she has had many students come to her about the Confederate flag to talk about how it was affecting them. Last year, a student of color talked to the group about how he felt like he was “⅗ human.” He explained that he felt this way because the Confederate Flag can represent those who do not view African Americans as equals.  

Meg had also come across a book with Confederate and American flag on the cover while looking for a hip-hop book in the music section of the U-32 library. She had a jolt reaction when she saw the image, realizing that this book could come under greater scrutiny with this new ban. “I was like ‘oh my God,’ it has become this symbol that is so charged.”

 

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[showhide type=”3″ more_text=”3. BLAAMM (Black, Latino, Asian and Many More) and School Board Representative Mia Smith” less_text=”close”]

 

Mia Smith is a student representative on the U-32 school board. She had wanted to become a student rep so she could know more about what is going on at U-32 and become more involved. 

Mia says that it feels like not everybody knows what the actual ban is: “I don’t think the entire student body knows a lot about what the ban actually is.” Mia says. “I think that it’s mostly been the small student group that has been proposing it.” 

Mia is also a part of BLAAMM, another group at U-32. She says that she sees the Confederate flag around U-32 a lot now. “Nobody is surprised that they see it anymore. The idea of the Confederate flag needed to be brought back up again. It is good that Seeking Social Justice has brought it back up.”

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[showhide type=”4″ more_text=”4. Seeking Social Justice Callback Discussion” less_text=”close”]

 

Seeking Social Justice recently held a callback to talk about the ban of hate symbols at U-32, along with the proposal that they brought to the school board. Members of Seeking Social Justice, BLAMM, and others who wanted to voice their opinion, met in a back room of the library on Monday the 14th. 

 

Before the discussion, Shelley Vermilya, U-32’s Equity Scholar in Residence, brought up the point that “Sometimes getting messy doesn’t feel safe and that’s kind of ok.” She says she “wants to encourage us to think more about being brave and really adding to the conversation.” 

 

Two questions were asked to start up the conversation: 

  1. “Have you ever seen a hate symbol at school?”
  2. “How many people saw these hate symbols before the black lives matter flag was raised?” 

 

For the majority of the discussion, all argued on the same side. There was not one person in the discussion who strongly disagreed with the points brought up. For example, later in the conversation Bruce Pandya, a member of Seeking Social Justice, brought in a new question: “Who here feels that fundamentally the Confederate Flag is a racist symbol?” Everyone in the group raised their hands. 

 

Tegan LaPan, a junior at U-32 sat in on the debate. Speaking on those who believe the Confederate Flag is acceptable, she brought up the point that “It’s not that they don’t understand what it means.” Rather, “its that they don’t understand what it’s like to be targeted in that way.” Tegan feels as though the people may not know what the symbol truly means, and even if they do, they don’t know how it feels to be targeted by a symbol that carries a lot of weight. “They don’t know the personal effect that it has because they’re not of African American or any decent that they’re using it against.”

 

Willow, another student that sat in on the discussion asked, “How would someone address someone who thinks the Confederate Flag is not racist?” Charlie, another student that attended the meeting suggested “Calling in instead of calling out.” Charlie believes that you shouldn’t tell them they’re wrong or jump on them about the topic. Instead, educate them and try to have a civil conversation about it.

 

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[showhide type=”5″ more_text=”5. October 22nd Policy Board Meeting” less_text=”close”]

 

On Tuesday, October 22nd, Seeking Social Justice proposed their hate symbol ban to Washington Central’s policy committee. 

 

Meg Allison, one of U-32’s librarians and the faculty advisor for Seeking Social Justice, argued that a “substantial disruption” is hard to measure at a school like U-32, because there are so few students of color. “Students are marginalized,” she said. “We are of the belief that if one student’s learning is impacted it is ‘substantial.’” 

 

When the committee asked whether similar policies existed in other schools, Seeking Social Justice noted that Hazen Union High School in Hardwick, Vermont has a Confederate flag ban of their own.  

 

 U-32 English teacher Mark Brown spoke about his home state of South Carolina. “The Confederate flag flew atop the Statehouse for decades,” he said, “and was put up there during the Civil Rights Movement.”  Brown said it wasn’t until after Dylan Roof opened fire on the people inside Mother Emanuel Church in 2015 that South Carolina’s state government chose to retire the flag. “It was because they recognized what it meant,” Brown said. “They recognized that no matter how many people felt differently the impact was too much and it was time to put it in a museum.” 

 

The committee raised concerns regarding the proposed ban potentially violating the First amendment. Seeking Social Justice member Bruce Pandya replied: “Schools have an obligation to protect certain student speech, but also have fair latitude to restrict student speech when it can be harmful,” he said. “We don’t want to prevent people from having substantive, productive dialogue on symbols or on particular ideologies.”

 

Another member of Seeking Social Justice, Iona Bristol said “a large part of this is just an effort to change the culture around these symbols.” 

 

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[showhide type=”6″ more_text=”6. English Teacher Alden Bird” less_text=”close”]

Alden Bird has taught English at U-32 for 9 years. He is opposed to the ban. “I think it’s something that’s unconstitutional and ineffective,” Alden explains. “I think what really changes hearts and minds is education, conversation, and relationships.” 

Bird said the ban goes against U-32’s usual approach to issues, “doing things with other people, not doing things to them.” 

“Bans are things that do something to people,” he said.  

Bird said the Restorative Practice Model is an example of a more effective way to handle these types of problems.

Bird also said that if, under the proposed ban, he had to talk to a student that wore the Confederate flag (or any other hate symbol) in their clothing, he’d have to start the conversation with “Hey, you gotta take that off.” He said that judging from his experiences with students, people would stop listening. 

If there was no ban, he could still go up to that student and say “Hey, let’s talk about what you’re wearing right there.” He said he’d ask if they know what kind of message it’s sending out into the world. They may disagree at first, but they could talk and develop a relationship, and then that student will eventually take that clothing off.

Alden said going back for 10 years as a teacher, he hasn’t had to speak to a student about a really offensive symbol. But he has talked to students about the Confederate Flag and behavior that was offensive to people.

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[showhide type=”7″ more_text=”7. Jake Utton, who has worn the Confederate Flag” less_text=”close”]

 

Jake Utton is an 8th grader who often wears a Confederate Flag hat to school. He says he got the hat when he was “out in West Virginia where the Dukes of Hazzard car was made.” He says the reason he wears the hat is because of the car, but that he does “understand that it could offend people.” 

He wants to have conversations with those who may disagree to “get to know ‘em and to tell them why I wear this hat.” Jake says he has never been approached or asked by any student, adult, or teacher about the hat. 

Jake also expressed that the Confederate Flag hat has a different meaning to him. The hat reminds him of the trip he took with his father and the car that he traveled to see. He believes that “It’s just a flag,” and referenced its similarities to the American Flag and how the South has used the flag ever since the Civil War as a symbol of pride for the region. 

When asked about the possibility of the Confederate Flag symbol being banned in the “Hate Symbols Ban,” he expressed his frustration, saying he would be very upset because he sees nothing wrong with the flag. Jake also made sure to mention that even if his hat was banned in school he would still wear it outside of school grounds.

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[showhide type=”9″ more_text=”8. 4 Students on their free band” less_text=”close”]

Four students during their free band…

 

(Grade 11) Townes Degroot:

 

“Something I found interesting is that technically speaking hate symbols have always been banned at U-32, under our bullying and harassment policy. You can’t display images that demean others, or harass others. What I think people are trying to do now is to clarify things, because a lot of the time I feel that individuals interpreted that differently and enforced that policy differently- not  knowing when to take down symbols and when not to. I really think the movement now is to clarify the already existing policy and ensure that it’s all handled the same way, and I think that’s a positive movement. I think that hate symbols are disrupting our educational community, our educational environment, particularly people who are already being marginalized. I think  showing that this school believes in a welcoming community is important. “

 

(Grade 12) Amanda Brown:  

 

In some people’s opinions, the Confederate Flag is a hate symbol and in some other people’s opinion, it’s not. So nobody can really determine that. I think no one’s opinion is more valid than another person’s opinion, they’re all equal.  I just think that we should put up both flags to be honest, to be equal. I see the purpose behind the Black Lives Matter flag and I think it’s a good thing in a lot of ways but I also think that it just has caused more of an issue too… not fighting, but conflict.

 

(Grade 11) Jacob Bizzozero: 

 

At least in the North, it is based more of a hate symbol because of the Civil War.  I know to some people in the South it can be viewed as part of who you are, because it was the separation of Union and Confederacy, but at least in our place in the United States, I don’t think it should be viewed around that. I don’t agree with what it as a symbol puts out as a message. I think it’s a very negative piece of artwork. 

 

(Grade 11) Kendra Morse:

 

I think that it would be good to ban “hate” symbols because you don’t know who those things could be offending. But at the same time you can’t really assume that the Confederate Flag alone is being used as a hate symbol…. in most cases it is, but you can’t just automatically assume that. But banning other hate symbols is a good idea because it could offend a lot of people in a lot of different ways.  

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[showhide type=”11″ more_text=”9. School Board Member Chris McVeigh” less_text=”close”]

Chris McVeigh is a lawyer and member of the unified school board. He is pro-free speech and anti-ban, but understands that there is harm in hate symbols. He explained that the board has yet to formally discuss the issue or form an opinion, but there is conversation within the board. Therefore his opinions are his own, rather than an official position. 

 

“I think the students who were advocating before the policy committee, were looking at a substantial disruption as something that would prevent even one student from accessing educational opportunities.” He couldn’t say for sure what constitutes a substantial disruption, but could say that it should be judged on a case-by-case basis. 

 

“I tend to support the First Amendment to the greatest extent possible, but also realize that there is harm in language.” 

 

“I tend to err on the side of more speech, not less speech. Part of the reason for that is what someone might think is harmful speech now can be turned around, so that something that was not seen as harmful speech, can then, because of a majority, become harmful speech. It becomes something of a moving target.” 

 

“A school environment just gives the school administrator more power over students than say for the governor, just because of the status of students and the administration being in loco parentis.” 

 

“In fairness to students, you would really need to identify what symbols would come under this policy… just so that there’s a due process element. If you’re going to prohibit an activity or speech, the person being subjected to that policy should know what speech it is, so that they can abide by the policy.” 

 

“It’s kind of like driving down the road, and an officer gives you a ticket, and you say, ‘wait a minute, there are no signs up here, how do I know?’ And he just says, ‘well it’s just what I decided it to be on this particular day.’ Whereas if there’s a 50 mile an hour speed limit, I know where the speed limit is.” 

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[showhide type=”12″ more_text=”10. U-32 Principal Steven Dellinger Pate ” less_text=”close”]

Last year, senior Cameron Brown interviewed Steven Dellinger-Pate for his I-Search in Expository Writing. Steven agreed for the Chronicle to publish the interview saying, “my views haven’t changed.” 

 

 “The flag means different things to different people. And it means different things here in Vermont then it did to me growing up in Texas. My own personal bias is that it is not a good symbol. Period. I don’t wear it, I don’t have it in any format in my life.”

 

“I do understand why some people use it as a symbol for what they believe and that’s not necessarily a white nationalist belief. I think it’s that idea of being a rebel, you know, like Dukes of Hazzard that kinda thing.”

 

“I have not seen nor has anyone brought me anything that shows me that it is disrupting the learning environment.”

 

“For the school, the conversations that we have as a school are great. I think that conversations are what we need to do. Some students don’t understand it for what it means.” 

 

“I’ve seen that the students that are for and against it and sit down and actually talk with each other. That would be a hard case to say that is a significant disruption if they can sit down and talk about it.”

 

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[showhide type=”13″ more_text=”11. Netdahe Stoddard, Vermont Racial Bias Counsellor ” less_text=”close”]

 

On Tuesday, October 15th, U-32’s Seeking Social Justice club held a talk with Netdahe Stoddard, a racial bias counselor from Cabot.  In his remarks he used an analogy to explore the dynamics of intent and impact.  

 

“I like making analogies that have zero  emotional baggage,” he said. “I’m gonna give you an intent and impact scenario that has no baggage.” 

 

“I’m also an independent contractor. I work out in the woods and I build things.  So a few years ago I’m on top of a roof hammering thousands of nails into asphalt shingles– boom boom boom boom boom.”

 

“My intent is to hammer these nails in,” he said. “But I go and hammer my thumb.” 

 

“Once busted my thumb right open, wrecked my whole day.”  Stoddard mimed bandaging his finger. “Should I feel like I’m a bad person because I hit my thumb no should I pretend like my thumb didn’t get hit because my intention was to hit the nail?”

 

If I pretend my thumb didn’t get hit, then I don’t actually go and do the responsible thing, to go wrap it and fix it,” he said. “I’m not holding myself accountable. I’m not tending to the impact of my hammer.” 

 

“There’s no emotional baggage in that, but we can see that it would be kinda silly for me to think that only intent meant something:  ‘Well, I meant to hit a nail, so I’m gonna forget about my thumb.’”

 

“So let’s move on to a little bit more baggage.” 

 

 “When I was in college one day, it was like midnight, 2:00 in the morning, super cold….   I was walking up this really steep hill from downtown Burlington up to my dorm.” 

 

“I had my hoodie on, my head down, and I’m marching up this sidewalk, dah-dah-dah-dah.”  

 

“In my limited view, I see the heels of a woman on the sidewalk all by herself, also walking home.”   Stoddard realized that from the woman’s point of view, it seemed like he was following her.

 

“I’m just completely tense and sweating, and I’m like ‘what am I doing?” he said.  “I’m like stalking her on the sidewalk, and my intent is to go home and get warm.”

 

“It was too late to not do the harm, right? The harm is done.”

 

“Part of what’s so harmful is the context,” he said. “We live in a world in which women are less safe in the middle of the night.” 

 

“I had the freedom to not worry about who was coming up behind me… and I had the freedom to not think about who I’m coming up on. So I apologized and crossed the street.”

 

“Now again, I don’t have to feel like I’m a horrible person, right? Because my intent was just to try and get myself home and warm, you know?”

 

“But at the same time it would be silly to think that I had no impact on this person, so what I tried to do was mitigate that harm a little bit, by getting out of her way and saying sorry.”

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[showhide type=”23″ more_text=”12. Netdahe Stoddard Letter ” less_text=”close”]

To whom it may concern, 

My name is Netdahe Stoddard and I co-direct Building Fearless Futures in VT. BFF VT is a project of Wheelock Mountain Farm which works to promote racial literacy and justice in our schools and communities. We fully support a ban on the confederate flag at U32 and see that such a ban fits well within school policy and state and federal law. It is undisputed that the confederate flag is a symbol that has been used in conjunction with the torture and murder of thousands of U.S. residents. It is used, both historically and presently, to threaten and intimidate POC, religious minorities, women, lgbtqia community members, union members and others. It is used to limit people’s constitutionally protected right to access public spaces free from threats of violence. Its used to distract working class white folks from collaborating with folks of color toward achieving shared goals and needs. We recognize an obligation to provide a school atmosphere that is free of intimidation and threats so we support further education regarding the confederate flag, as well as a school wide ban. Thank you.

 

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[showhide type=”16″ more_text=” 13. Christiana Martin, Social Studies Teacher” less_text=”close”]

11th grade AP US History teacher and 10th grade Democratic Roots teacher Christiana Martin sat with the Chronicle to discuss her thoughts on the proposed hate symbol ban from a constitutional and historical perspective. 

 

“My head is kind of split between how I feel about the Confederate flag,” she said, “and how I feel about the First Amendment.”

 

“I think the confederate flag is emotional for a lot of people. I have a family member who fought in the Civil War for Vermont.”

 

“It was the Battle of the Wilderness, the bloodiest battle Vermonters saw. He was killed and buried in Arlington national cemetery. I think about him and his sacrifice and how I perceive my family would have felt. I’m imagining that they were too poor to ship his body home.”

 

“When I think about that and when I think about Vermonters wearing the Confederate Flag, it’s hard to not feel emotional about that. Or maybe angry or sad or maybe disrespected.  I think a lot of people have stories and connections like that.”

 

“I wonder how he would feel, he actually fought for something, for Vermont, for freedom and to have Vermonters walk around with the Confederate flag– I think he’d be really confused.  I think that a lot of Americans are confused about the Confederate flag.”

 

“That’s the US History side of me,” she said. “There’s the Dem roots side of me. I know that there are limits on how much you can restrict the First Amendment.”

 

“What is interesting to me is the precedent case that set the tone for freedom of speech in schools: Tinker v Des Moines(1969).”

 

“If it was your brother was drafted and you come into school and you see someone wearing a black armband protesting his sacrifice, you might feel like their throwing that in your face. I feel like that would actually be really hurtful. I can see why the school asked them not to wear those armbands, but The Supreme Court upheld that students are allowed to have a political voice here in school.”

 

“If you have a student wearing a Confederate flag and you decide that makes you feel uncomfortable enough that you want to go home, we know that Tinker has set the standard for substantial disruption to the learning environment.”

 

“Has a substantial disruption to the learning environment occurred here? A student has left the learning environment. A student has felt that they needed to go home because of that. You could say that is maybe substantial disruption.”

 

“I think that there’s some type of irony in the sense that the fact that we have free speech in schools comes from the ability of people who maybe felt a great deal of harm over those armbands stepping back and saying, ‘they’re still allowed to have their freedom of speech’.”

 

“What if those people had decided that they couldn’t deal with it and had to leave? That would have been a substantial disruption.”

 

“If people came to school wearing a ‘Klan hood’?  That would cause a substantial disruption and they wouldn’t be able to wear that. Does the Confederate flag cause the same amount of harm? The same disruption? I think these are important questions because we’re talking about limiting someone’s political speech which we know that the supreme court holds to the highest standard.”

 

   “I don’t like seeing the Confederate flag around school, I don’t think that it belongs, but political discourse- yes. That’s really important. And as far as what we allow as protest… I do think that the people who wear the Confederate flag to school are protesting in some way. I don’t want to shut that down because that’s at the heart of democracy: talking about things we disagree about. Society becomes we weaker when we say that we won’t even engage with those topics.”

 

 “Our school is very liberal leaning. People know that, the students know that, the adults in the building know that, and I think that there are a lot of students who think that they’re more conservative. And the feedback I’ve heard from those students over the years is that they feel like their voice is not being respected sometimes, or that classrooms don’t give them a space to speak to how they feel about things.” 

 

“I don’t want to say that conservative people are somehow aligned with the Confederate flag, but I do think that there’s a community here, a subculture that feels really marginalized. Like people aren’t listening to them.”

 

“Would having a policy that harm done had to be discussed in an RP situation help? I would like to think that it would. I would like to think that talking about more things in open spaces would be better.”  

 

I like to think of Barack Obama’s response to Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem:

 

 ‘The test of our fidelity to our Constitution, the freedom of speech, to our Bill of Rights, is not when it’s easy, but when it’s hard.’

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[showhide type=”17″ more_text=”14. Sarah Davinci, ‘Mother of a black student'” less_text=”close”]

 

“The white mother of a black student.” 

Those were the words used to describe Sarah DaVinci in the October 31st Times Argus article about U-32’s “Rolling Up Our Sleeves: Community Dialogue Series”:

“The white mother of a black student who she said is routinely subjected to racially based ridicule, was even more emphatic.”

“The bare minimum you could do for him is to ban the Confederate flag,” she said. “It’s ludicrous we’re even having this discussion.”

Sarah DaVinci is in fact “white woman with black child”: her son is a student of color at U-32. But for DaVinci, the way she was identified in the Argus story seemed strange.    

“Every other speaker in the story was named, and I was ‘the white mother of a black student,’” she said, in a recent interview with the Chronicle.   

 

“Was the reporter doing it to protect me? I don’t know, but I wasn’t given a choice,” she said. “Don’t you think I should have been asked?” 

 

DaVinci moved her son to U-32 after several experiences of racial harassment at his previous school.  

 

Davinci said that the administrators at the school, who presumably meant well, were often “figuring it out as they went along,” and in their efforts to seek resolution they often ended up “almost protecting harassers.” In several instances, she said that her son “ended up being injured again.” DaVinci said it seemed like the administrators may not have had the training to address issues of racial harassment. 

 

For example, her son was in the cafeteria one day when a young student made a strange comment out of the blue. “If our school burnt down,” the student said, “you’d have to go to a black-only school.” 

 

After the incident in the cafeteria, DaVinci’s son reported the other student for his remark. Later that day Davinci’s son, a friend of his who witnessed the incident, and the student who made the comment were all called into a discussion with the principal. 

 

At one point in the discussion, the principal posed a question to the student who made the remark about the “black-only school.”

 

 “Do you know what the “N-word” means?”   

 

When the student had no answer for the principal, she turned to DaVinci’s son.  

 

“Can you explain to him what the N-word is?”   

 

The N-word wasn’t part of the original incident. For Davinci, the principal’s handling of the incident, which involved elementary school children, compounded the harm done to her son. The principal ended up telling him that it was his responsibility to educate his peers about racism.

 

DaVinci said that racism at school has been a routine experience for her son. In the cafeteria, sitting with her sons, kids debated “how much black does he have in him? 50%? 70%?” Students have told him he was the most likely school shooter in their school.  

 

When he was in 6th grade, a 2nd grader told DaVinci’s son his “skin was dirty.”  When the son reported the remark, the 2nd grader got upset and said, “I have a knife in my bag with your name on it.” According to DaVinci, a school administrator told her son that “there was a misunderstanding,” and that her son shouldn’t have reported it. The administrator told her son to “go back and tell them you made it up.” 

 

One issue that bothers DaVinci is the lack of communication from the school. In every instance when her son reported an incident, she learned of the racial harassment later, from her son, instead of being contacted by the school. No one ever followed up to see if her son was ok after these incidents.

 

“This should be treated like a wound,” she said. “If your kid falls down and hurts their head, the school calls home. When my son has been racially harassed I’ve had to rely on him to let me know. Why is that?” 

 

DaVinci said her son has only reported a fraction of his experiences of racism.  

 

“He just wants to blend in,” she said. “He doesn’t report most things.” She said that most students of color endure racism on a routine basis. “There are probably so many things that aren’t reported,” she said.   

 

DaVinci moved her son to U-32 because she knew the school used restorative practice, heard good things about U-32 generally, and was encouraged when the school raised the Black Lives Matter flag. She assumed things would be better for her son.  

 

But on his first day of school at U-32, he saw a student wearing a baseball cap with the Confederate flag on it.  

 

“It represents to him that he’s not included, that he’s an other,” DaVinci said. “It represents murder and death for his ancestors.” 

 

Her son did not report to the school, but told his mother when he got home. DaVinci called the school and reported the incident. She spoke with principal Steven Dellinger-Pate.

 

“I will give him credit,” she said. “He did move very thoroughly. But the harm’s already done.” Steven convinced the student who had worn the hat to stop wearing it to school, and supported steps to reopen the dialogue about hate symbols at U-32.

 

DaVinci appreciated these efforts but still isn’t satisfied. She doesn’t understand why there is even a debate about the Confederate flag at school: “Why isn’t the Confederate flag banned under the current dress code?”  

 

U-32’s dress code gives administrators discretion to ask students to remove items of clothing that “depict in words or graphics messages that demean, harass, exploit or ridicule others.”

 

And DaVinci had questions about the diversity of the policymakers: “Why aren’t people of color included in determining what is acceptable?”  

 

She asked Steven where the “hard-line” would be, in determining the limits of what a student could wear to school. If the Confederate flag could be acceptable, she asked, “could people wear the KKK uniform? Or come in blackface?”  

 

In the bigger picture, for DaVinci, the school’s integrity is at stake.

 

“You can hang the Black Lives Matter flag,” she said. “But if you aren’t protecting the people the flag represents, then it doesn’t mean anything to me.” 

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[showhide type=”19″ more_text=”15. Shelley Vermilya, U-32’s Equity Scholar in Residence” less_text=”close”]

Editor’s Note: Shelley submitted her perspective in writing to the Chronicle.

 

Is exhibiting hate symbols free speech or should they be banned? How powerful are they? Who benefits from hate symbols? Who is harmed? 

 

Symbols have histories. The Germans banned symbols from the Nazi era, yet Neo-Nazis exist and there has been a resurgence of white supremacist activity in the U.S.A.*  

 

Heather Heyer died in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. The driver rammed the car through protesters peacefully marching in response to a white nationalist rally, killing her in the mayhem. He was fascinated by Hitler and Nazism.** 

 

Dylann Roof was doing research on-line into the death of Trayvon Martin and he was directed into deeper and deeper hate algorithms. He embraced the lies and the symbols. He murdered nine African American church members at a prayer meeting  at the Charleston, S.C. Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015.***

 

The spectrum of hate goes from disrespect through words, to graffiti, to on-line and direct harassment, to the injury or murder of individuals based on race, gender, sexual expression, and being transgender.**** 

 

My moral compass opposes all hate symbols and speech. I believe in the power of education. 

Can we teach media literacy so algorithms don’t take over a mind until the heart follows?  Can we engage students to prevent the lure of membership in a hate group? The symbols worn on clothing, flown on flags, displayed on phone cases or screens are symbols. Can we find what students are really searching for? Can we teach for equity and justice—for all?

 

I’m for that!

 

*For statistics:

The Anti-Defamation League (https://www.adl.org/adl-hate-crime-map?gclid=Cj0KCQiAiNnuBRD3ARIsAM8Kmlsv-RMpW3guEVI7NPqwyDiudOlIcP9ON1KFSfcqN1wiQcJw387DuioaAoDnEALw_wcB

 

FBI (https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/civil-rights/hate-crimes)

 

 Southern Poverty Law Center has the numbers. Resurgence of hate groups started to rise as Barack Obama started his campaign Presidency. Trump has escalated the permission and supported those involved.  (https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map)

 

**Wikipedia

 

*** 

Teaching Tolerance 

https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2017/the-miseducation-of-dylann-roof

 

****November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance https://www.glaad.org/tdor

 

Shelley Vermilya

Equity Scholar in Residence at U-32

 

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[showhide type=”20″ more_text=”16. Rick Lee, Confederate Flag Flier” less_text=”close”]

Editor’s Note: This is a complete transcript of an interview conducted by junior Noah McLane last year for a project in Democratic Roots. Rick Lee lives on Terrace Street in Montpelier and is well known for flying the Confederate Flag on his front porch.

 

Noah: Well, first tell me a little bit about yourself.

 

Rick: I was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi, in 1959. My father’s from the South. He was born in Mississippi. My mom was born right here in Vermont. My dad came up North to work and met my mom. There’s six kids in our family. Well five now, our sister passed away. My family’s bounced back and forth between South and North but I’ve been here most my life and this is where I am. But I have southern roots and southern heritage.

We were raised to be proud of your family. We’re a true family. And to never, never back down from your family heritage. Which should be true with every family, no matter what.

You should be proud of your family and live to each their own. Respect each other. And their own beliefs. Be it religion, heritage, race, whatever. Just respect each other.

 

Noah: So is that what brought you to Vermont from when your mom moved here or your dad moved here from… 

 

Rick: Like I said, my family. I’ve got a brother was born in Texas. I was born in Mississippi. I got brothers and sisters born here in Vermont. So my family, you know, throughout the years [we] bounce back and forth between the South and the North. But like I said, my dad and his family were all from the South. So we ended up staying here most my life. And I’ve got family in the South still. I got a lot of family in the South. And I travel down sometimes and visit them, they come here and visit me.

It’s just that I have always had my southern side, family heritage, and I’ve always been proud of it. There’s nobody or nothing is ever going to make me change my mind on that. Fifty-nine years old now and I’ve-

 

Noah: lived that way your whole life. 

 

Rick: Yeah. You know, It’s the United States of America. It’s not the North or South anymore. And that all happened way before I was thought of. But things are different from the south. Have you ever been to the South anywhere?

 

Noah: I personally have not for a long enough period of time- 

 

Rick: I will tell you something, my friend. If you were down south, you would find that the people are very welcoming, and they’re very generous, and they’re very polite, and they would treat you like you have been there forever.

They’re kind people.

That’s one thing I’ve noticed about the South and the North is there’s a lot of rude people up here. I’ve been here most my life and eight years ago, when we bought this house and moved in here, people looked at us like, there goes the neighborhood.

You know, because the first things we do delivered here were my two Harleys. I got long hair and tattoos. And, you know, just metal. And stereotype. And they watched too many movies. And then some of the neighbors found out very quickly that I was one of the nicest guys. I’ve helped many neighbors and I’ve never asked for anything in return. That’s who I am. That’s the southern part of me. Giving. And watching out for each other. I don’t know. I can’t change the world. But I can always stick strong to my beliefs.

 

Noah: So I heard a couple of times that you are related to Robert E. Lee. That is correct? 

 

Rick: That is correct. It’s actually through his brother Samuel. But I spring somewhat from the same tree as Robert E. Lee’s. He’s one of my ancestors. And I’ve been questioned on that and criticized. But it is the truth.

 

Noah: And to be the truth, what is what does that mean to you?

 

Rick: Pride. What grade are you in high school? 

 

Noah: I’m a sophomore. 

 

Rick: Sophomore? 

 

Noah: Yeah. 

 

Rick: Okay. Have it at any point in all your schooling, have you been taught in history, The Civil War?

 

Noah: Yes. A couple of times. 

 

Rick: OK. What did you get from that?

 

Noah: Very one-sided, I would say.

 

Rick: North?

 

Noah: Yes. 

 

Rick: OK. I’m going to tell you some facts about the civil war. Back in the 60s and 70s, there was the Black Panthers. That was a bad time. And I’m not racist at all. I have some very, very close friends that are black. Like I said, I’ve got tattoos. The guy that does my tattoo work is black. And he’s the only person that I trust to do my tattoos. He’s like a brother to me. I love him like a brother. I have quite a few black friends.

I don’t care what color you are. I don’t care what religion you believe in. I don’t care what your sexual preferences [are]. I might not agree with a lot of it, but if you don’t throw it in my face, I don’t care. To each their own. Live and let live.

The civil war did not start over slavery. I don’t care what all these pros talk about. It did not start over slavery. It started over government, politics, money, power. That’s a fact.

Slavery came into it very late into the war.

The first slaves were here in the North. And the fact is trade ships were going to Africa and their own people, Africans, black people were trading their own people for goods.

We can’t change that.

We shouldn’t be changing history. We shouldn’t try to cover up history. We shouldn’t be taking down statues and monuments and whatever.

Things get out of hand. You know, like rumors. I could say hey, I met this guy, Noah, and he’s got a little tiny wart on his cheek. And then the next guy says, Have you seen that Noah guy? His face is covered in these warts, he looked like an old witch or something. Rumors.

Things get fabricated and things change. People need to just live and let live and accept the fact that history is history.

Good or bad. History is history. Just like with Hitler and everything and the stuff that’s going on the Jews now. What just happened in the news, the people with the Jews. That’s a terrible thing. That should not happen to anybody. Every person on this God-given planet should be safe, should have food, shelter. Nobody should suffer or be a victim.

And the only people that I am against are the people that are doing things like that. The people like the person that shot up that crowd at the concert there. Or the people that drive their vehicle into crowds. I’m against bad people. I am prejudice against bad people. I’ll shake anybody’s hand. Whatever color their skin is, whatever religion they are, whatever they believe in. All through town here you see the rainbow flag. For the gay people. I don’t personally believe in gay relationships. But to each person, their own preference. I see the Black Lives Matter flags. They have it at Montpelier High school. I don’t know if they have any U-32 yet. 

 

Noah: They just put it up. 

 

Rick: OK. All right. 

Something that really sticks with me … society accepts … the rainbow flags everywhere. They accept the fact that black lives matter flags, and black lives do matter, all lives matter. Every life matters. But they have them at schools.

But I have been criticized for my Confederate flag, which to let everybody know is the Tennessee battle flag. And the one on the wall there is smaller. That is the Navy battle flag. You know, there’s many different Confederate flags. I get criticized for my flag for my heritage, and that’s what it is to me, my pride, my family pride and my heritage. Nothing more. People have turned it into something bad. I haven’t, but people have let it turn into that. Because they’re naive. See it for what it really is, part of our history.

Part of our history, we should be teaching our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. We can’t change history. We can’t change what happened.

All wars are bad and they’re always about politics and power and money. Every one. I’ve never heard of a war that has been for good things. It’s always been for politics. Now, I will tell you something right now. I personally have no trust in one single politician. Because look what they do. They turn a campaign into a bitchslap match. Disrespect. Respect each other, have a clean, respectful campaign and stand up and be a real man or woman.

And tell the truth. It is real disgusting what they’ve done. You’re a young man, I really would hate to be your age again because I don’t like the way it’s going. I don’t want people to be insulted by my flag. It’s my heritage and that’s what it is. I’ll be a friend to anybody.

Everybody can respect the rainbow flags, the lives black matter [flags] and just not too long ago, just the other day, UVM had some signs out there that somebody put out that said it’s OK to be white. But it is OK to be white. It’s OK to be black. It’s OK to be oriental. It’s OK to be, you know, whatever. But they immediately made them take those out. Why? Because it’s all one-sided. All one-sided.

Now I mentioned the Black Panthers, and if you’re interested in that, do some research on it. Because I grew up as a child and I remember seeing it on the news and I didn’t understand it then. As I got older, I understood it more.

My personal feeling and like I said, I’m not racist, but I think this Black Lives Matter movement is doing a little more harm than good. Be proud that you [are] black, and demand respect, but why you got to turn it into a parade? And a big, try to be like Martin Luther King Junior, I had a dream. Standing down here in the Statehouse speaking on the microphone.

You know, be proud of who you are. Be proud of your heritage. Be proud of your family. And just get along, you know. Stop this, we can’t get along because your skin’s different color. Or you have a different religion than me. Stop it. I think this country’s got a lot more serious things to worry about than that. We’re fighting each other here. When we have enemies overseas that we better be watching.

I can never understand why the gay people like I said, I don’t believe in it. But to each their own, [as] long as you don’t try to shove in my face. I’ll respect your beliefs. Why do they have the feeling to parade, shut off [the] street and parade down through and speak at the statehouse? If you’re gay, fine. Love each other, but don’t shove it in everybody else’s faces.

You know, I’m an old fashioned traditional family type guy and I’m a true family person and I was raised to respect each other.

But I’m disgusted at the way things are. The social media is not helping things. They really blow things out of proportion and destroy things. This is all coming up about my flag. It was in the news. They chased me down at my job. They cut me off in front of me. Channel 5. And I told the young lady I tried to be as polite possible. She was beyond points where she was supposed to be on city property.

And I said, you need to leave now, and you need to leave my personal life out of my work life. Don’t you ever come to my job again. And then some friends of mine and co-workers would tell me that they parked here and some neighbors told me they parked here, my driveway for five hours. I work and I work hard. I’ve worked for the city for 20 years now. And if I [had] known they were in my driveway for five hours, I would have got one of my police friends to come up here and tag them for trespassing and harassment. Because my family don’t need to put up with that. We don’t bother anybody. But like I said before, people are just metal. They stereotype. I’ve noticed people have gotten really mean and nasty. And I just pray to God that people can start seeing the light. Start being nice to each other, respect each other, help each other out. I’m the first guy if you came to me and you were hungry and cold, I’d give you something warm the wear and I’d make you a nice meal. And I swear that to Jesus Christ, I would give my shirt off my back and the food out of my cupboards to help. If you’re a good person and you’re down and out.

And that’s what life’s about.

You seem like a really good young man. 

 

Noah: Thank you. Thank you.

 

Rick: And like I said, I went to U-32. And those are some of my best years of my life, I had a lot of friends and I understand some of the teachers are still here that I had. I hope you and your generation, I hope you people, I hope things turn around for you because things have really gone bad. And a lot of it is government. Never forget that family is first. Never be ashamed of family. You always stay proud of your family and be there for your family and be there for your friends, neighbors. I certainly hope for this world. Never back down from your beliefs. Never let anybody convince you that you’re wrong. Stand strong for your beliefs, because if you fold, if you fall down for them. They’ll walk on top of you for the rest of your life.

You have any other questions on… 

 

Noah: No. I think you have done just exactly what I was looking for and that was awesome. So I think we are all set. Unless you have anything else that you would like to share.

 

Rick: Yeah, live a long time. Live well and stay true to your beliefs. 

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[showhide type=”24″ more_text=”17. Kiah Morris, Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools ” less_text=”close”]

To Whom It May Concern: 

My name is Kiah Morris and I am the director of the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools. The Vermont Coalition on Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools or VCESES is a statewide coalition led by a multicultural and multigenerational group including people of color from various racial, ethnic and indigenous groups; women; and anti-poverty, disability rights, and LGBTQIA advocates. I write to you today as the Policy Committee is set to discuss a proposed ban on hate symbols at U-32. 

According to the published school policies on Self Expression and Hazing, Harassment and Bullying; both policies speak to the need to ensure a campus climate that is safe, welcoming and supporting for all students. In such an environment, hate symbols have no justifiable place. Symbols like swastikas, Confederate flags, white supremacist hand gestures, icons, memes and more are used by perpetrators to invoke fear and anxiety for the viewers. There is no innocence attached to their use, particularly in 2019 when the impacts of this form of harassment and terrorism are well known and documented. 

As a coalition, we are clear about who we seek to lift and support through our work towards equity: 

  • women and girls 
  • youth with disabilities 
  • immigrants 
  • refugees 
  • LGBTQIA 
  • Abenaki 
  • people from other indigenous groups 
  • people of African, Asian, Pacific Island, Chicanx, Latinx, or Middle Eastern descent 
  • groups that have been historically subject to persecution or genocide 

The needs of these marginalized students – who are most likely to be the targets of such hate – should not be sacrificed for the comfort of those in the majority culture who are enacting harm upon them. Free speech has limits, and the harms that occur within the school environments are your responsibility to mitigate. I encourage you to listen carefully to the voices of those directly impacted through this remedy as it is reflective of their needs. 

Sincerely, 

Kiah Morris she/her/hers kiah@voicesforvtkids.org 802.780.7590 (private cell) Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools ethnicstudiesvt.org Voices for Vermont’s Children voicesforvtkids.org 

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[showhide type=”25″ more_text=”18. Senate Pro Tempore Tim Ashe” less_text=”close”]

“I’m proud of the Seeking Social Justice club’s efforts to create a school environment free from hate, bullying, intimidation, and discrimination. Their proposed policy exempts certain symbols when used for educational purposes, and instead concerns itself with rooting out uses that have absolutely no place in our schools. I commend them for stepping up and proposing this policy.”

 

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[showhide type=”18″ more_text=”19. Bruce Pandya on Censorship” less_text=”close”]

People who accuse Seeking Social Justice of censorship are dishonest, unless they are willing to apply it across the board. Student speech is frequently curtailed in educational environments for a variety of reasons. Promotion of drugs and other illegal activity is not allowed, for instance. Is a pot leaf is more harmful than a swastika? I don’t think so.

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One thought on “U-32’s Hate Symbol Ban: 32 Voices”

  1. Thoughtful and comprehensive coverage of some hard topics. I appreciate the hard work by all the students who contributed to this special edition. I’m impressed by your effort to mirror back to our community the different voices and viewpoints that make up who we are. I’m proud to be a member of this community.

    For the record, in regards to the book in the library I inadvertently picked up-The Civil War Songbook with an image of the American and Confederate flags on the cover, I want to make clear that under a proposed hate symbol ban, educational uses and books featuring the Confederate flag would be acceptable and permissible. The proposed ban seeks not to censor educational material, for there is much to learn about the Confederate flag and I actively encourage interested students to learn more.

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