Halifax has seen discussion and dissent regarding PEACE flags being displayed in several Halifax Elementary School classrooms. After concerns were brought to the attention of the administration and the school committee, the flags were taken down.
At Monday night’s meeting of the Halifax School Committee, Steve Ruisi, representing the Halifax Teachers Assn., spoke to the group of almost 200 logged into the remote meeting, defending those teachers who displayed the flags saying their intent was to create a learning environment to welcome diversity, tolerance, and inclusion.
Ruisi introduced Lisa Whitney, a sixth grade teacher at Halifax Elementary School who told the committee and those in virtual attendance that “these flags were intended to display unity, kindness, and inclusion. This banner was hung as a visual representation that all students regardless of race, orientation or abilities are welcome and celebrated in our classroom. This message is also supported by the HES mission statement.
Alexander Meade, speaking as a parent, not as a school committee member at this time, said he wants a safe, welcoming learning environment for every student who walks through the doors at HES. “The personal attacks, the slander, name calling and the general disrespect I’ve seen online in recent public gatherings as a result of this dispute seems to be in complete opposition to this project’s intended purpose. “ Meade went on to say that one of the most common lessons that our student body has been taught has to do with the act of bullying. The definition of bullying reads “seeking to intimidate, harm or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable.” I am most appalled at the recent classroom discussion that devolved from the ongoing issues at hand. Despite the ParentSquare letter posted by ‘the great 16’ that reads “we had extremely productive, respectful and positive conversations with our classes this week regarding the PEACE banner that was previously hung on our classroom walls, reports have been made that not only repeatedly but as recently as last week, there was singling out of students based on their beliefs regarding the PEACE flag that didn’t align with the staff views that doesn’t seem productive, respectful or positive. As a matter of fact, the teachers seem to have taken their platform and views to turn their discussion into an opportunity to pick on certain pupils and become the bullies themselves.“ … “Unfortunately, the only thing that has been accomplished in this dialogue is showing our youth that as long as you agree, you will be lauded and praised, however if you express dissent, the golden rule is waived and your opinion is dismissed as invalid.” …“We’re all attending this meeting tonight because we care about our children. And they deserve better.”
Mr. Smith, spoke as a concerned town resident and not as an attorney and as a father of a 21 year-old gay son who was at times the target of anti gay behavior at HES while he was growing up. “While we consider the issue it is important to know that the flags had been hanging for several weeks already without causing any disruption before they were removed. In an email, Dr. Proulx has said that the teachers violated proper protocol for displaying PEACE banners and that an IMB policy which addresses the teaching of controversial topics was not followed.” Smith furthered that Dr. Proulx had said in an email that some parents felt politically marginalized by other flags not being allowed and that the removal of PEACE flags was a matter of allowing equal access for different points of view.” Smith said that he had reviewed the IMB policy and said it was clear to him that because the PEACE flag message was 100% consistent with the emotional learning aspects of the curriculum, hanging the flag was not a violation of the school’s policy. “The PEACE flag represents all humanity, not just any group and they were hung by individual teachers, not by an organization. With the stated purpose of the PEACE flag being love and respect for all, I think it is sad that anyone ever suggested that a differing point of view to this message was needed in class. And it is ironic that a flag that symbolizes support for police has been suggested to represent a message that is the opposite of peace. No one who supports the PEACE banner being in class has suggested that support for our police is a bad thing. To the contrary we’re grateful for the heroic service the police officers render in trying to maintain and preserve peace which is why it is a ridiculous misapplication of law to state equal access is the mission here.” …
Saying the issue appears to be a Halifax matter, not a Silver Lake District issue as Peace flags have been displayed for months without incident, Smith asked that each member of the the school committee state their position.
Miss Carroll was recognized by the chairman who told the assembly, “I feel that the American flag stands for all diversity, all inclusion, all genders, all races, all religion backgrounds, no matter who you are. That’s what the American flag stands for. I feel we that we have now wasted almost two months of this. What we’re not talking about is a lack of education that our children aren’t getting by not being in school five full days. We need to come to a peaceful resolution regarding this issue and it needs to be done immediately because we are coming up on one full year of our kids not being in school …”
Superintendent Proulx responded, “The flag issue has many dimensions and there is a central point that we want to emphasize in all of this. Halifax Elementary School encourages and expects the teachers to teach about equality and nondiscrimination. Our classrooms are special spaces where students learn about being a community member and a citizen. The school committee and our administrative team recognize that this must be done in a way that creates a safe environment for all students to share and expand their views. That is also why it is important to assure the classroom environment remains a place where students can feel safe to express their views. Spaces for reasonable rational dialogue are becoming fewer and we owe it to our students to keep classrooms for every member to feel that they belong and are valued. Our administrators are currently working with our teachers to foster this environment in all classrooms. This is not work that can be done in a single lesson, and we have confidence in the skills of our teachers to promote values of belonging and community. We want to assure our community that our administrators will continue to work with our teaching staff to create and teach lessons that prevent bullying and promote a respect and kindness for all, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and political affiliation. Halifax Elementary staff know their students and their needs.“ …
“We appreciate the work that has been done and will continue to be done to achieve our collective goals. A true community classroom for all our values is not created by putting up a single flag, decorating a bulletin board, or even following a curriculum. This is an issue that must be resolved through the ongoing and daily efforts of a caring, supportive community of adults that model kindness, respect. and a willingness to work together to resolve complicated issues.”
A response from the school committee was read. “The school committee has been reviewing policies, correspondence, and conversations from both sides of the PEACE flag argument. Most recently on Friday the school committee was given a detailed timeline of events that preceded tonight’s meeting. After having a chance to investigate the different complexities of the issue, the school committee would like to issue the following statement: ‘Over the past few months there have been false accusations made and name calling directed at school committee members and administration including their families. As an elected board, we are a group of people who do not always see eye to eye, nor do we have the same beliefs and opinions. One thing we do all agree on is making the best decisions for all our children at Halifax Elementary School, no matter how difficult that may be at times. Procedures have been put in place by both the town and the school which need to be adhered to in the interest of providing the best learning environment for all our students. After meeting with the district’s counsel it has become clear that the policies were not followed by the teachers and staff regarding the hanging of the PEACE flag. As a result, an unintentional divide has been created not only in our town but amongst our student body. The divide has taken away from the safety of the classroom and in turn, the ability of our children to feel comfortable and welcome. In addition, it has taken precious time away from their limited in-person learning environment. It is our job to hear the facts and make the best decision for all children in our school. It is the teachers’ job to foster a safe place for each and every student and to educate them on the curriculum as set forth by the District and the Commonwealth. We as a committee will continue to support the students, the administration, and the teachers in creating a safe learning environment that accepts and celebrates the differences of our students regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, or political stance. We hope the town will come together to support all of our children and truly be the village it takes to raise the young people we know grow from our school system.”
Discussion ensued from parents, school committee members, and school administrators, all meeting with the same goal in mind – the education of the students at Halifax Elementary School and providing a safe, loving environment for all concerned.