The Rebel Debate Continues

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Thursday October 01, 2015

The discussion of keeping or changing the Rebels nickname has become a divisive issue in the city, with both sides voicing their strong opinions.

At the September 2 school board meeting, after hearing from many residents on both sides of the issue, the board asked Superintendent David Young to create an outline of next steps in the process of addressing this volatile topic.

At the September 16 meeting, Young proposed a panel discussion, but board members did not think this would help move matters along. Martin LaLonde said he felt that both sides had been fleshed out and that a panel wouldn’t necessarily enhance the board’s understanding of the issue. Fellow board member Julie Beatty agreed and added that a panel could prolong the process when it needs to be brought to a timely conclusion.

Instead of a panel, the board suggested hearing from high school administrators along with input from high school students. Board member Dan Fleming said, “Hearing from the high school administration is the number one missing thing right now...a strong recommendation from the stakeholders would help.” A suggestion from a parent in the audience advised that middle school administration should also be included in the conversations.

The South Burlington School District has been home to the Rebel name since 1961. Two decades ago, the school dropped its Rebel mascot, but the Rebels moniker remained. The Rebel name, along with the icon of the intertwined SB letters, is used on the district’s banners, website, and sports uniforms today.

Many residents, SBHS alumni and students feel that the district has already distanced itself from any connections to the Confederacy, and that the Rebel nickname no longer holds negative connotations.

Resident Bob Walsh spoke at last week’s meeting. He is concerned with the idea of a public panel as well as the process for garnering student input if they do not have the knowledge behind the history of racism before voicing their opinions. Walsh, a retired teacher who taught African-American History at South Burlington High School is staunchly in favor of removing the Rebels identity completely.

Walsh explained that when he taught the class, which was an elective, students left with a completely different perspective than when they took U.S. History alone.

“The elephant in the room is racism and we don’t want to talk about it…we are perpetuating a name strongly tied to the Confederacy. I hope you get rid of the name then set up a committee to figure out what you’re going to do next,” Walsh said. LaLonde agreed that the opportunity to educate students on the history behind the Rebels name would be an important component of deliberations.

Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald stressed that they owe it to all the stakeholders to take the time to resolve the issue, but to not have the process go on indefinitely. An update on the procedure for student engagement will be provided at the next board meeting, October 7.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent