The Social Justice Union feels strongly that Burlington High School (BHS) should stand in solidarity with Montpelier High School in the raising of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) flag. People of color makeup 35.4% of the Burlington School District (BSD) and we want to be recognized. Flying the BLM flag not only recognizes students of color, but it also creates a welcoming ethos and helps to bridge Burlington communities together.
Black students make up 14.6% of the district, yet their suspension rate is 30.6% (Equity and Inclusion Data Report, 2016-2017). This disparity is evidence that BSD needs to better support our students of color, and this is an opportunity that would lead the district in the right direction. By flying the flag the district would validate the difficult barriers and the hostility that students of color and their allies experience in the District.
There are common misconceptions of what the BLM movement stands for. It aims to eliminate racial profiling, excessive use of force against people of color, and racial bias in the criminal justice system. In American society, black lives have not been as protected, respected,or valued as white lives, hence the need for such a movement. It’s critical in today’s learning environments that students of color not only feel protected, but promoted as a group that needs added support.
We understand that an action like flying the BLM flag may draw local, state, and/or national attention. We know that Montpelier High School has experienced some backlash, yet the majority of feedback was in the form of overwhelming support. From observing online and through in-person conversations for weeks, we have every reason to believe that the broader community of BHS and Burlington support raising the flag. There is no reason for caution due to the risk of pushback, in fact, there is only reason to stand up and support people of color in our community.
As a state, Vermont has a rich history of supporting civil rights. We were the first state to outlaw slavery and the first to approve gay marriage through legislation. While this makes us proud, we must do more to fight systemic and person-to-person racism. By raising the flag, the district will continue the long tradition of supporting civil rights while also creating momentum for to further our efforts in combating racism.
Flying the BLM flag would be an excellent opportunity to address the notion of Vermont Exceptionalism. Though Vermont is a progressive state, many black Vermonters express that living in Vermont is, in some ways, more difficult than living in the racist South. By being among the whitest states in the country, we have an obligation to further the well-being of our brothers and sisters of color so that their skin color is no longer a predictor of social, economic, academic and health outcomes.
By raising the BLM Flag, we are asking the board to support all of its students. This is an opportunity for the Burlington community to unite to show where our moral compass points: toward progress.
We propose the flag to be flown throughout the rest of the 2017-2018 academic year. We also propose returning to the Board in April to discuss flying this flag annually for the entire month of February after doing an assessment of the consequences that the flag brings.
We have provided the statements of seven students who urge the flag to be flown. We also have included a petition from high school students and staff in support of this action.
The statements are below: