The Milton Town School Board on Monday approved the procedures that will let student activist groups fly flags that support their cause on the high school flagpole. Those procedures include a clause — added before the vote — that gives the board the right to remove any particular flag at their discretion.
The vote was the culmination of discussion and debate since May, when the student group Milton for Social Justice sought permission to fly the Black Lives Matter flag from the Milton High School flagpole.
The group ultimately hopes to fly the flag permanently, but the board made sure to create an environment where activist expression through the flagpole would let other groups participate. To that end, the procedure the board adopted requires any student group wishing to fly a flag also provide a time frame for the display, which would be subject to board approval, and also that the display of any flag come up for periodic review.
Board member Rick Dooley suggested the time frame be subject to board approval. “It just says the proposal will include a time frame,” he said. “It doesn’t say the board has to abide by that.”
Board member Emily Hecker also supported the time frame clause. “If they want to say, the flag will be up until the end of institutional racism, then that’s their time frame,” she said.
Burlington resident Quinn Doner, an LGBTQ community member and a substitute teacher for the district, spoke before the vote in support of raising the BLM flag.
“I wanted to express disappointment,” said Doner, explaining they have a BLM flag at their home, and was afraid of retribution, and in fact their house has been attacked with paintball guns.
“We’re gonna fly it until institutional racism is dismantled,” said Doner, advocating for the student group.
“When somebody’s in a position of power over you, you don’t feel free to say what you feel,” he said.
To try and avoid controversy, board member Michael Joseph wondered if there should be two motions: One to fly the flag and the other to define how long it will stay up.
“If you separate the motions you could let the flag fly and then debate for how long,” he said. The other board members did not adopt the idea.
Joseph later worried that board members who reject a time frame would be seen as racist. “That’s the reality of the situation,” he said.
At a July 22 meeting, Joseph expressed concern that black Lives Matter, by virtue of its dot com rather than dot org designation, is a for profit entity, and that letting the flag fly would give way for more for profit entities coming forward. In fact, according to the website TaxExemptWorld, Black Lives Matter is a 501C3 non profit foundation that just happens to have a dot com domain.
Hecker suggested the annual review with the student group, and wanted to make sure, as did the rest of the board, that other student groups would have an opportunity to fly a flag that supports their cause.
“If another group of students that want to fly another flag, then why can’t we just get another flag pole?” she asked.
Rae Coulliard wondered how much another flag pole would cost, but Joseph reminded the board that they were only there to define procedures.
The added clause reads, “The board has the right to remove or replace a flag at their discretion,” but Dooley indicated he did not expect the board to find a need to remove the flag.
The vote to adopt the procedures was unanimous. Superintendent Amy Rex told the board she would inform the student group of the result, giving them the green light to ask the board on Aug. 26 for permission to fly the BLM flag.