By NEIL ZAWICKI
The Milton school board on Monday suggested to the selectboard that both should participate in diversity and inclusion training.
School board member Emily Hecker proposed the training, and the other board members, as well as superintendent Amy Rex, echoed her suggestion.
“It’s really difficult to kind of have these conversations, because a lot of people feel kind of vulnerable,” said Hecker. She added the training would help them as town leaders to be ready to help and hear the students.
The move came at the end of a special joint discussion between both boards, and on the heels of the July 22 school board meeting, where the student group Milton for Social Justice again advocated for their plan to fly the Black Lives Matter flag from the Milton High School flagpole. The group revealed its plan to the school in May and ultimately hopes to fly the flag permanently.
The July 22 meeting was crowded, which board member Rick Dooley said was a direct result of the discussion regarding the proposal to fly the BLM flag.
“We have sparse attendance at our meetings,” he said. “When there are issues on equity and race, we pack the room.”
Student group leader Molly Gary gave a presentation at the July 22 meeting, explaining how the BLM flag “stands for the intervening and protection against violence toward people of color.”
“This flag will show that as a community we accept, appreciate, and welcome you,” said Gary.
Board member Michael Joseph wondered if it would be wise to allow the flag on the pole, suggesting that Black Lives Matter, by virtue of its dot com, rather than dot org website, is a for profit entity.
“What is the outcome you guys are trying to achieve by raising this flag?” he asked Gary. He also asked what other symbols could possibly by used instead.
“My concern is that we’re putting a flag up for a for-profit organization,” he said. “Is this the first thing that is paving the path for all others to petition us to put their flag up?”
Addressing the board, Montpellier resident and minority activist Beverly Little Thunder said the student group should not need to ask permission to fly the BLM flag.
“The Black Lives Matter Flag represents all of us,” she said. “It’s a piece of cloth flying in the wind, but there’s a lot of meaning to it, just like the Stars and Stripes carries meaning.”
Rex said the comments at the July 22 meeting gave new urgency to a conversation the board had last year, and that the efforts to fly the flag had an indirect effect on their move to suggest the diversity training. The selectboard welcomed the idea, with town manager Don Turner reminding both groups that town officials have undergone such training in the past.
“We realized through that participation that we needed to learn a lot,” he said.
Along with the training for officials, Hecker also suggested a community forum to discuss race and diversity in Milton.
“I think having a forum sponsored by the school and the town would be really powerful,” added Dooley.
Rex offered to “look into some resources” in order to find a professional diversity trainer and get the ball rolling toward organizing the training. Without establishing a timeline, both boards agreed to proceed with the plans.
The school board on Aug. 12 will revisit the draft flagpole procedures that would allow the student group to fly the BLM flag, and they are expected to finalize those procedures at that meeting.