Thursday January 26, 2017
Whether or not to keep the Rebel identifier of South Burlington School District has been a hotly contested item for some time and at the February 1 school board meeting, Superintendent David Young will present his recommendation to the board regarding how to move forward. It is ultimately up to the board to decide whether to keep, reject, or re-brand the Rebel identifier.
Last fall, the discussions regarding this issue came to a head. Those against keeping the name, cited its ties to the Confederacy and its lack of reflection on inclusiveness given the district’s changing demographics. The school district removed all symbols of the Confederacy from school materials, including the mascot, more than 20 years ago, but some argued that this was not enough and that simply maintaining the name even without a mascot did nothing to erase its historical ties. Others sought to keep the name but re-brand it, citing other positive meanings for the word rebel such as revolutionary or independent. Ultimately, school board members unanimously decided to keep the name, but with caveats that included an action plan on how to move forward to ensure the principals of diversity, equity, and inclusion were furthered.
This issue surfaced again this winter when board member Martin LaLonde asked for an update on the action items; student representative to the school board and student diversity union member, Isaiah Hines broached the subject as well.
At the January 18 board meeting, Young offered a document answering board questions specific to the issue of the Rebel identifier. Of note, Young mentioned a steering committee that has been organized by Healthy Schools and involves the partnership of several student and school clubs and organizations. This committee is in the process of organizing a community series focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion that will take place beginning on January 30 (see page 5) and run through April, with one event per month. These events will be free and open to the public.
Young also noted that students involved in high school classes such as PIWA (public issues and world affairs) have an opportunity to address current issues in the context of historical significance. Students recently watched the documentary 13th which addresses slavery and its connection to mass incarceration today. They also shared the documentary publicly in a well-attended event organized by the student diversity union. This type of learning does a “larger sweep” according to Young on diversity equity and inclusion that goes beyond addressing the Confederacy alone.
At the January 18 meeting, members of the Student Diversity Union presented a statement to the board expressing their strong desire to retire the Rebel name. Isaiah Hines read that because of the historical connections to the Confederacy, “We find this connection deeply problematic and we feel that it would be dishonest to our school’s history to simply ignore it.”
A group of residents was also present with a statement signed by over 140 South Burlington residents and SBHS alumni, supporting the retirement of the Rebel name. It was noted that additional residents wanted to sign the statement, but were uncomfortable adding their names for fear of retribution to themselves or their students. The statement, read aloud by Melissa Pasanen, cites several reasons for retiring the name, including its association with the Confederacy and that students have communicated fear of speaking out against the name; thus impeding their ability to exercise freedom of speech. They also noted that attempts to re-brand would ultimately fall short in ridding the district of the Confederate ties because such an effort would require “lengthy explanation and always be subject to negative interpretations.”
The group asked the board to retire the Rebel nickname to make the clear declaration that South Burlington is a welcoming city for people of all races, cultures, identities, and that our schools are welcoming to all students and families.
Hines concluded that he thought it was “important to move swiftly on this issue since it is difficult to deconstruct racism with this barrier.”
This item will be warned for discussion and possible action at the February 1 school board meeting which begins at 7 p.m. in the Rick Marcotte Central School library.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent