Board mulling policy after Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ flags hung in Windsor School classroom

<br /> Valley News – Board mulling policy after Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ flags hung in Windsor School classroom<br />


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Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 10/15/2020 10:14:23 PM

Modified: 10/15/2020 10:14:16 PM

WINDSOR — School board members are grappling with how to respond to social and political signs in classrooms after a parent raised the issue with Windsor School administrators.

Looking for guidance, administrators brought the question to the Mount Ascutney School District Board at a meeting Wednesday night. Kate Ryan, one of the assistant principals at the Windsor School, said a parent had reported seeing Black Lives Matter and pro-LGBTQ flags hanging in the classroom of middle school English teacher Chris Lord.

“My intent is to send a clear and — based on the deliberate size of the flag(s) — loud message that our classroom is a safe space for LGBTQ students and students of color,” Lord said during the virtual meeting, in which he defended hanging the flags in his classroom.

After a 30-minute discussion, board members decided not to take action, since Windsor administrators and Superintendent David Baker supported Lord’s decision to hang the flags. If members of the public have an issue with the board and Baker’s stance, they are welcome to bring concerns up during the next School Board meeting, board member Bill Yates said.

Though no one at the meeting opposed Lord’s decision, the issue prompted some board members to question whether they should implement policies addressing Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ and other similar symbols hung in classrooms in the future.

“I would rather be clear so the administration doesn’t come to the board every time something like this comes along,” board member Kris Garnjost said.

He drew a parallel between the signs and religious symbols in classrooms, adding that it’s difficult to establish lines between what kinds of personal opinions are acceptable in a classroom, and what are not.

“When does something go from being a social statement to a political statement?” Garnjost asked.

Baker echoed Garnjost, adding that the district is “short on policy” regarding personal or political symbols in schools. He questioned what would happen if a student asked to hang a “Blue Lives Matter” sign or flag in a classroom, adding that message can be offensive to students of color.

“There’s a difference between being a police officer and being of a different race,” Burrows countered. “One is part of an identity but it’s a choice, and the other is part of an identity which isn’t a choice.”

Yates argued that the issue of Lord’s flags, and other similar issues in the future, should be left up to administrators, who are trained in educational law, and not the board.

“I hesitate to give any sort of power to a policy or to a school board to make those choices without a lot of thought,” he said.

The flag discussion follows months of Black Lives Matter protests across the country and related controversies in Windsor this summer. Some students were disappointed that a Black Lives Matter flag was not displayed at Windsor School’s graduation.

Windsor Principal Tiffany Riley later in June made a post on Facebook that was seen as critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Her post led the board to place Riley on paid administrative leave. Riley then sued the board, arguing — in part — that dismissing her was a violation of her right to free speech.

The lawsuit has been put on hold pending the outcome of a termination hearing, which the board held for Riley early last month. They have not issued a decision on Riley’s position.

In an email on Thursday in response to questions about Lord’s flag and Riley’s Facebook posts, Burrows said she did not see a connection between the two.

The board’s decision to move toward terminating Riley “was about a lot more than a Facebook post, and to simplify it to form the basis for such a comparison would be, in my opinion, flimsy and a mistake,” she wrote.

During Wednesday’s meeting, board members also appointed Rebecca Roisman, a former school counselor in Windsor and Claremont and a former assistant principal in Claremont, to fill a board seat left empty since former board member Beth Carter resigned in August.

Anna Merriman can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3216.

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