BY SCOOTER MACMILLAN
Inclusion, exclusion, and how to make every student feel safe and embraced by Champlain Valley Union Schools dominated the discussion at the school board meeting Tuesday night.
Roughly 10 parents and students were on hand to share their concerns with the school board about racial inclusion.
Black Lives Matter flag
Akuch Dau, Paige Thibault, Prince Yodishembo, and Katelyn Wong, students representing the newly-formed Racial Alliance Committee at Champlain Valley Union High School, spoke in favor of having a Black Lives Matter flag raised at the school. They asked that the flag be raised in March this year and then raised in February in subsequent years as part of Black History Month.
“We must rise up from unfortunate events to tackle issues head on with not only words, but with actions,” Yodishembo said. “We think the student leaders from Montpelier, Burlington, and South Burlington high schools were paving the way with this great endeavor.”
The board discussed whether they could make a decision in time for a March raising of the flag. The procedure is to have a proposal put on the agenda for an upcoming school board meeting, to discuss it at that meeting, and then to take a vote on it at the next school board meeting. The board decided to add the item to their agenda to discuss it the special meeting within the regular committee meeting on March 5.
Jaunich suggested hanging the flag in the cafeteria where other flags hang, not in place of hanging the flag in front of the school, but until the board has time to take action.
Student Peter Antinozzi spoke against the raising of the Black Lives Matter because he feels the flagpole is a sacred place that should be reserved for the U.S. flag and the Vermont state flag. He said he would like the board to pass a policy that reserves the flagpole for those flags and not for “movement flags.”
“My opposition is not to the (Black Lives Matter flag). My opposition is merely to where it would be placed,” Antinozzi said.
Racial graffitti response
Edorah Clemmons, Amy Brosius and Lydia Clemmons spoke as a part of group of parents who are concerned about the drawing of a swastika found on a library desk and the N-word written on a bathroom wall.
“Unfortunately, we have all had experience with racial harassment, anti-Semitism and other forms of harassment in the district that have spanned years,” said Clemmons. “We also know families who have left the district because of persistent racial harassment here. And what they felt was inadequate protection by the schools.”
Brosius said that her daughter read the letter that they had sent to the board and she was upset by it.
“In no uncertain terms, she told me, ‘White people do not get to say that word.’ And despite my assurances that half the letter’s authors were African-American and that it was a conscious choice to include the word in the letter, she was very, very dismayed,” Brosius said. “And she’s right: White people do not get to say that word.”
Brosius called the swastika and racial epithets “trademarks for hate, division, or dehumanization.”
The group of parents who wrote the letter said they want the school board to clearly condemn the actions, to develop a zero-tolerance policy for acts of racism, to create a position for a school system diversity and inclusion specialist, and help develop a parent and community diversity action team “to work alongside staff and students.”
Board member Dave Connery said that many times it is said that the board moves slowly.
“I think it is better said that the board moves deliberately,” he said.
Board member Kelly Bowen said she wanted to send a message.
“I need to know that, when our students walk into our schools, they feel safe. Period,” she said. “As a school board member, I want the message to be very clear that we are an inclusive community and when you come into our buildings as a member of our community, no matter what race you are or gender, you are safe in our community.”