Education News

MUHS students raise the BLM flag

STUDENTS IVY DORAN and Fairley Olson joined ACSD Superintendent Peter Burrows and board Chair Mary Cullinane in raising the Black Lives Matter flag in front of Middlebury Union High School on Friday, Oct. 29. Doran and Olson are members of MUHS’s Student Coalition On Human Rights, which requested the BLM flag-raising almost two years ago. Independent photo/Steve James

Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — More than 80 Middlebury Union High School students stood shoulder-to-shoulder during a picture-perfect Friday afternoon to witness the raising of the Black Lives Matter banner on the MUHS flagpole. It was a ceremonial event almost two years in the making.

“I want to say this moment is really, really important for us and is a step toward much of the work we need to do today, tomorrow and into the future, as we look at ways to make our district and our communities more open to all people,” ACSD Superintendent Peter Burrows told the assembled crowd of students and school officials.

The Addison Central School District board on Oct. 11 endorsed a new policy that that allows the flying — for a limited time — of banners other than just the U.S. and Vermont flags on the primary flagpole at the entrance of any ACSD school. This new policy then allowed the ACSD board, at the same meeting, to unanimously approve a student request for the BLM flag to fly in front of MUHS for the duration of this academic year.

It was in early 2020 that MUHS’s Student Coalition On Human Rights, known as SCOHR, requested permission to fly the BLM flag. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the absence of a district flag policy delayed the ACSD board from promptly acting on the request.

The adoption process for the new policy proved anything but easy. Board members found themselves divided into two camps: one asserting the primary flagpole at school should be reserved for governmental emblems, and the other arguing the flagpole is an important messaging hub that should be harnessed to project support of causes compatible with ACSD policy and core values — in this case, to draw attention to historically oppressed people.

ACSD board Chair Mary Cullinane noted the historical context of flying of the American flag as a way to honor citizens who have died in service to the country — including for free-speech causes. But she also acknowledged the prevailing inequalities in how white and non-white children are able to access education, healthcare and other critical services.

“We recognize that we as a country have work to do,” she said.

“We believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion are critical to achieving ACSD’s vision and foundational goals,” Cullinane said, reading a statement from the school board. “We recognize that much more work is needed to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for non-white members of our learning community, and the ACSD Board is committed to that work.”

ACSD SUPERINTENDENT PETER Burrows helps raise the Black Lives Matter flag at MUHS late last month.
Independent photo/Steve James

See the full statement here.

Students cheered as the BLM flag went up, with SCOHR members Ivy Doran and Fairley Olson reading a joint statement.

“Flying the BLM flag at MUHS helps uphold the school’s core beliefs — to provide welcoming and safe classrooms and to promote purposeful teaching and learning,” they said. “Displaying the flag welcomes conversations that are essential in order to have a greater understanding about racial inequity that persists throughout our society.”

Like Cullinane, Doran and Olson stressed raising the BLM flag was the easy part; now comes the heavy lifting of pursuing racial justice in and outside of the school building.

“Although this is a monumental step in fighting against racial injustice, it’s not the only step that can be taken,” they said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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