By SCOOTER MACMILLAN
The Black Lives Matter flag will fly at Champlain Valley Union High School.
The Champlain Valley School District School Board voted 11-1 in favor of flying the flag Monday night with Russ Caffry of Shelburne casting the lone dissenting vote.
After extensive discussion, board member Dave Connery made the motion for the flag to fly for 30 days.
During the portion of the meeting designated for the public to address the board, Paige Thibault, student co-leader of the Racial Alliance Committee at CVU, told the schoolboard that the flag had been endorsed by Corey Booker, junior U.S. senator from New Jersey and a Democratic candidate for president, and Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. She said the committee has collected over 800 signatures supporting their efforts to fly the flag at CVU.
“Raising the Black Lives Matter flag at CVU is not and has never been the end goal of RAC’s efforts,” said Thibault. “RAC will continue to educate the student body on Black Lives Matter and continue to advocate for racial equity in our communities.”
Thibault said the committee’s proposal was to raise the flag from February until the end of the school year.
Peter Langella, a librarian at CVU who has been working with the Racial Alliance Committee as an adviser, said he also supported raising the BLM flag, but that it is just one step toward some systematic changes the Champlain Valley School District should make.
“It is essential that CVSD move intentionally yet as quickly as you can to hire a diversity and inclusion specialist and to change our hiring practices to seek out candidates of color who can transform the faces of our collective faculty to better mirror our increasingly diverse student body.”
Caffry said that he had supported the flying of the flag at previous meetings but had changed his mind after a couple of conversations with friends who are attorneys. One attorney told him that flag poles are “a traditional public forum” and subject to the Equal Access Act.
“If we have established a history of third-party group flag flying, we can’t pick and choose which are acceptable to us and which ones aren’t,” Caffry said. “Before we get too far down this path and approve this, I think that it’s critical that we have a policy and that we’ve had someone with a background in constitutional law review this.”
He said although some have said they don’t think any problem groups would form at the school, groups could fly flags who aren’t even part of the school.
Board member Brendan McMahon said that legal fees the school system might incur are part of the board’s concerns, but they should also consider what will happen “if 10 other social groups say, ‘I want my flag flown.’”
“By supporting Black Lives Matter you’re not saying that you don’t support all lives,” said board member Josilyn Adams. “What you’re saying is: ‘I recognize that things have not been equitable for you, that you have experienced hardships that I have never experienced,’”
Board member Ray Mainer said he’d spent many hours thinking about the flag issue and that he is still torn. He said he is worried that flying the flag might not be inclusionary, that it might turn out to be exclusionary.
He said non-white students are not only valued, “they are wanted.” But he added, “You hear about tribalism and I fear it’s going to divide the tribes apart even further. My second issue with it is a larger issue of bullying and other harassment.”
He said that he worried the flag might have the opposite effect of what supporters hope it will have.
Much of the schoolboard’s conversation revolved around passing the motion to fly the Black Lives Matter flag without having a policy about flags in place.
Adams said she supported having the flag fly until the end of the school year as the Racial Alliance Committee requested, instead of the 30 days it would fly in Connery’s motion.
“I would love to have the flag fly for the rest of the year,” said Connery. He described the 30 days as “sort of a compromise” because a policy needs to be in place.
In response to legal questions about the motion, Mark McDermott, the school district’s director of human resources, personnel, policy, and legal services, pointed out that he is not the board’s attorney, but said, “I’m as comfortable as you can be in this situation.”
An amendment to Connery’s original motion that would have the flag to fly until the end of the year failed with the board tied 6-6.
The motion that eventually passed was amended to read: “Consideration of further requests will be delayed until a CVSD flag policy is developed and approved, as charged to the policy committee. All groups requesting the flying of a flag will be subject to the new policy.”