Essex Westford School Board votes to keep ‘Black Lives Matter’ flag flying

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 5:58 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2021 at 8:46 AM EDT
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - The Essex Westford School Board voted 6 to 3 Tuesday to leave Black Lives Matter flags up across the district. The flags were put up at the beginning of last year as a was a way of expressing solidarity during nationwide protests last year.

Students, staff and members of the public all came out to show their support, but Tuesday night’s decision did not come without controversy.

“By voting against raising the BLM flags, what message are you sending to the Black and brown kids who attend the Essex Westford School District? That racism in our community doesn’t matter anymore?” said one supporter among a group of students who made a passionate plea for the school board to leave the flags up.

They were backed by 519 students who signed a petition, and school leadership.

“Most of us have never felt the need to remind our community that our lives matter, but most is not all. That’s why we fly the flag -- Black Lives Matter,” said Thomas Flemming School Principal Matt Roy.

But not everyone was in favor.

“What are we teaching our children? Communism is OK? That Black lives are better than white lives and if you don’t support it you’re a racist?” said Kaitlin Gregory of Essex.

At one point, a handful of people stormed out using explicit language to describe the meeting. None of those who spoke against the flag were students.

“We support our BIPOC community members, but we do not support attacking others’ viewpoints by lifting some up and ignoring and suppressing others,” said another Essex Westford parent who was not in favor of flying the flag.

Madison Turman, a junior at Essex High School, says equity is often misunderstood.

“It’s more than trying to get everyone to the same outcome. Instead, more of making sure people have opportunities to rise to their full potential. Unfortunately, there is a gap in race between school and education,” Turman said.

While students say the flag is a good first step toward equality in education, Nora Kinney, a senior at the high school, says there’s still more work to do.

“I think it’s hard to confront our bias sometimes. But it’s really important to understand equity to its full extent and social justice and broaden your understanding,” she said.

The flag will stay up for one year and be reviewed annually. Students say they hope the school board and school staff will undergo diversity and equity training. They think it will lead to healthier discussions about things going on in the world around them.

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