EAST MONTPELIER – School officials are considering a separate-but-equal solution to a flag flap that started when they allowed a Black Lives Matter banner to be flown on the flagpole outside U-32 Middle and High School earlier this year.
Months later the School Board is still wrestling with how to handle similar requests, and while members were discussing a draft policy that could answer that question Tuesday night, Principal Steven Dellinger-Pate told them two flagpoles might be better than one.
According to Dellinger-Pate, school administrators favor the idea of installing a new, “taller” flagpole – one that would be exclusively used to display the U.S. and Vermont flags. He said that would leave the current flagpole available for banners proposed by student groups, like the one that persuaded the board to allow the display of the Black Lives Matter flag.
Dellinger-Pate said the still-evolving proposal would resolve a problem linked to the height of the current flagpole, which is barely tall enough to accommodate two flags when the U.S. flag must be flown at half-staff. More importantly, he said, it would address concerns raised by those who believe the U.S. and Vermont flags are entitled to a pole of their own.
As an added bonus, Dellinger-Pate said administrators were toying with the idea of launching a student competition to design a school flag that could be flown at the top of the pole that would be reserved for flags proposed by student groups and approved for display by the board.
“I think we can come up with some good solutions that still provide us a way of showing solidarity for our student groups, showing solidarity for our school as a whole and still respecting the U.S. and Vermont flags,” he said.
The plan outlined by Dellinger-Pate received a thumbs-up from an East Montpelier man who offered to pay for the second pole, but was greeted with skepticism by a member of the multi-cultural student group that celebrated the raising of the Black Lives Matter flag in June.
Tim Frazier told board members his long-standing objection to their decision to raise the Black Lives Matter flag had nothing to do with his view of that movement.
“It’s been twisted and turned into that,” he complained, noting his singular issue involved a belief the district should adhere to the U.S. Flag Code.
Frazier said installing a second flagpole for the exclusive display of the U.S. and state flags would do that.
“I’ll buy it,” he said.
U-32 senior Latisha Badeau didn’t share Frazier’s enthusiasm. A member of the group BLAMM – an acronym for Blacks, Latinos, Asians And Many More – Badeau questioned the concern about flying the Black Lives Matter flag below the U.S. and Vermont flags and didn’t seem swayed by the answers supplied by Dellinger-Pate and School Director Kari Bradley. They both noted the concern didn’t have anything to do with the Black Lives Matter movement and had everything to do with the belief the U.S. and Vermont flags should be on uncluttered display.
“Those powerful symbols represent something meaningful for them,” Bradley said of the flags.
Badeau said the argument cuts both ways and members of her group believe the statement it made with the board’s blessing would be devalued if the Black Lives Matter flag were relegated to a separate pole.
“We kind of see it as, ‘now it is like less important,’” Badeau said. “I don’t know if you get that, but that’s how we see it.”
The board didn’t resolve the issue, but members did approve the first reading of a policy that outlines the criteria it would use to evaluate other flag requests.
The initial proposal would have limited those requests to “legitimate student groups” — a term members agreed could be difficult to define and might be unnecessary. Though there was some discussion of entertaining requests from the broader school community, members generally agreed it should be limited to student groups. Requests, they said, should be demonstrably tied to the schools, mission, goals and student learning outcomes and pitched to the board, which would have the final say.
The board is expected to revisit the policy in two weeks.