The raising of the Black Lives Matter flag Friday at Rutland High School will be a private event accessible only by school system students, staff members and faculty, according to school officials. But a group of protesters planned to attend the event representing the group Blue Lives Matter, according to Rutland City Police Cmdr. Matt Prouty.
“My understanding is that it’s a local group,” Prouty said. “They’re not being allowed on school property ... they’ll be over by McDonald’s.”
Prouty said the department is ready for a response if need be, but doesn’t plan to be out in force and remains in communication with the school.
A post on the RHS Facebook page reiterated that the event would be private. The post called for support for the students during the ceremony.
“This is a step already taken by a number of high schools in Vermont,” the post read. “The intention of our students is simply to use this symbol as a learning opportunity with the message of inclusion.”
“It is not really a public occasion,” RHS Principal William Olsen said in an email Thursday. “It’s a learning opportunity at school. We want to keep the focus purely on the students without any outside distractions. We also want to maintain a safe and secure setting, and thus we are limiting access only to students and staff. I apologize for excluding, but in discussing this event with schools who did this prior to us, we think this makes sense.”
Tabitha Pohl-Moore, president of the NAACP Rutland chapter, released a statement on the NAACP’s Facebook page saying the group would not be organizing a counter-protest, and that should anyone choose to, to respect the school and honor the students.
“We are proud of the New Neighbors and their incredibly difficult, well-fought journey to tomorrow,” Pohl-Moore said. “Many of us cried tears of joy when they won, and many of us will take a moment to pause tomorrow afternoon and recognize that, even if we cannot be there with them in person, we will be there in solidarity.”
Pohl-Moore said although protesters may try to disrupt the event, the strength of the community was evident and the future bright when the School Board voted to allow the New Neighbors group to lead the charge in joining Montpelier, Essex, Brattleboro, South Burlington and Burlington high schools in raising the BLM flag.
“We say, let the haters and the willfully-ignorant and the misinformed show up,” Pohl-Moore said in a post. “It will not stop the flag from going up. It will not stop our joy, our hope, our validation or our visibility. Black Lives Matter, and tomorrow we will be seen.”
Superintendent Adam Taylor could not be reached for comment.