The Black Lives Matter flag will fly at South Burlington High School (SBHS) during Black History Month next February. The request, made by the South Burlington High School Student Diversity Union (SDU), was unanimously approved by the school board at last week’s meeting. The board had previously heard a compelling presentation from students at their May 16 meeting and had warned the item for potential action Wednesday, June 6. About 20 members of the group were present as officers of the Student Diversity Union made statements. Bridget Burkhardt made the motion to approve the action, Alex McHenry seconded, and the students received an emotion filled standing ovation from all gathered. By taking this action, South Burlington will join Essex, Burlington, and Montpelier High Schools, that have also raised the flag.
According to the students’ May 16 proposal to the board, their goal with this action is to “create an accepting, equitable, and empathetic environment at South Burlington High School.” They believe that raising the Black Lives Matter flag will affirm the community’s commitment to inclusivity. The proposal was authored by (SDU) Co-Presidents Thabitha Moruthane and Aida Arms, Vice President Will Jewkes, Secretary Rachel Ambaye and Communications Director Samuel Premsagar. The group requested that time be allotted to raise the flag according to official flag raising procedures, along with a student led assembly explaining the significance of the flag. They also request that the flag be raised every Black History Month thereafter, beginning in 2019, and that the high school provide the materials needed, including the flag itself. SBHS Principal Patrick Burke said the flag should cost less than $100.
The students who spoke Wednesday night said they finally felt they had been heard when the board expressed their support. Co-president of the SDU, Aida Arms, who is a graduating senior, said “The importance of the flag will not be lost on my peers.” Secretary Rachel Ambaye said the board’s open minds gave her a sense of hope and showed that they believe in the students and the future. Vice President Will Jewkes added that this action will support the SDU’s mission and sets a leading example for schools around the country. “Positive change is necessary to make schools more inclusive,” Jewkes said.
After the students spoke, there was no further public comment and the vote was called. Martin LaLonde thanked the students for bringing this forward, saying that their presentation was very compelling and that he was “all for it.” Superintendent David Young said that he also supported the students’ request and the recommendation of Burke.
In a prepared statement, Principal Burke noted that he stood with the students’ desire “to send a message to our students of color that they matter. As principal, I support them in their goal of raising awareness that South Burlington is a changing community and I accept their challenge that I do more as an educational leader to address racial inequities that exist in our system.”
The students also had the support of their adviser, Carrie Premsagar and the SBSD Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee which, in addition to Premsagar includes district employees Dean Melen, Susie Merrick, and Stuart Weiss.
The May 16 presentation is available to view on RETN.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent