On a hot Friday, June 19, crowds formed at every school in the Champlain Valley School District to support the raising of the Black Lives Matter flag.
Emma Marden, of Shelburne, who is entering her freshman year at Champlain Valley Union High School, helped organize part of the day’s events.
She said as a 14-year-old she is tired of hearing her mother tell her brother he can’t wear a hoodie because it’s dangerous. She is tired of hearing her father tell her that she needs to work ten times harder than everyone else in order to be appreciated.
At most of the schools, the ceremonies started at 8:46 a.m. in remembrance of the 8 minutes and 46 seconds a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck, resulting in his death and an outcry of protests across the world.
At CVU, Principal Adam Bunting met at 8 a.m. with a few students, faculty and community members to talk about the event’s significance.
At 8:46 a.m. the Black Lives Matter flag was raised there for a third time, with around 150 people in attendance.
The flag has flown over CVU in honor of Black History Month, observed in February, and at another point the previous year.
One of the students in the crowd fainted in the heat. Bunting said it was his daughter, and for a moment he was not sure if he should be responding as a father or as a principal. She was fine.
In Shelburne, around 400 people started gathering on the town green at 2 p.m. They then marched to Shelburne Community School, shutting down traffic on Shelburne Road and Harbor Road for around 10 minutes.
The CVSD board unanimously adopted a statement that was read at all the school flag raisings in the district on Friday. The statement pointed out that the day they chose was Juneteenth.
On June 19, 1865, more than two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, “the last enslaved Africans were finally freed,” the board’s statement said.
“We hope that raising this flag will be a reminder to everyone in our community that your school district is committed to change,” the statement said. “Hold us accountable. If we’re not moving fast enough, let us know. If we aren’t going far enough, tell us. It’s on us to do the work, and we encourage your feedback.”
As protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis began to spread across the country, CVSD administrators and Jaunich had participated in a video responding to racism. The school system heard complaints about the video from racial justice advocates.
Video missed the mark
In phone conversations, both school board Chair Lynne Jaunich and Superintendent Elaine Pinckney admitted the video had failed to have the impact they intended.
Rather than alleviating anger, it elevated it.
“It was offensive we have learned and recognize that now. We have a lot of work to do,” Jaunich said. “If we could have a do-over, we would do it over. We can’t change the past, but we can change the future.”
“I think that we should have elevated Black voices in that video. The fact that we are all white and that we’re trying to talk like we have a Black experience doesn’t jibe,” she continued.
Pinckney said everyone’s intention was to do the right thing – but the video wasn’t it.
It was a huge lesson for the school administration to learn, she said. Part of the lesson is that they need to take out the time to be really critical of each other’s writing and if something doesn’t seem right to say so.
“We’re making darn sure that we do everything we can to get it right,” Pinckney said.
Jaunich said the school system needs to reform the curriculum so it doesn’t reinforce institutional racism and to increase the diversity of teachers and administrators.
Almost 11% of the students in the system come from minority backgrounds. The faculty does not reflect that.
Rallies at Charlotte, Hinesburg and Shelburne schools
Around 75 people attended the flag raising at Charlotte Central School, where Jaunich read the board’s statement.
There were also around 75 people at Hinesburg Community School. Co-Principal John Pontius started his remarks by thanking the Abenaki people, upon whose land the school was built.
“We’re here to dismantle racism in all of our instruction,” Pontius said. “The Black Lives Matter flag is a reminder that we have a long way to go for achieving racial justice.”
Co-Principal Suzan Locke spoke of the need to mobilize against racism, ensure that all voices are heard and reflect upon implicit bias.
Toward the back of the crowd, stood Hinesburg resident, Lt. Gov. and candidate for governor of Vermont David Zuckerman.
The Shelburne rally was organized by Marden. It was combined with the flag-raising for Shelburne Community School.
There people spoke about the need to undo systemic racism, then the flag was raised around 3 p.m.
Among those in attendance was Madeleine Kunin, of Shelburne, the first female and first Jewish governor of Vermont. She waved from the cool sanctuary of her car, where she remained safe from the heat during the proceedings.