Trumansburg Central School District Board of Education has been struggling to come to a decision about a Black Lives Matter banner and whether or not it should be displayed on school grounds.
Over the summer, the board received the banner as a gift and, through an email chain, voted to display it in the schoolyard.
Months later a community member complained about the banner, and the board voted to remove it (also through email).
At its regular meeting Aug. 31, the board discussed the banner and whether or not it should have been taken down.
Scott Sherwood, TCSD Board of Education president, said it was removed after the board received an email from a parent who is also a retired police officer.
The parent said he is concerned that his child may perceive the banner as a negative statement toward the police.
“His concern was that his [child] was going to go to school every day and think that [their] father is a bad person because he’s a retired police officer,” Sherwood explained, adding that the parent did not want messaging of any kind on school grounds but “did indicate that if we did choose to leave the sign he would be requesting some support for police officers in the form of a sign as well.”
Jhoanna Haynes, board of education member, made a plea to the board to keep the banner up, saying that the issue is personal to her.
“I have a black husband and two children that come to this district,” Haynes said. “Our district should have an opportunity to voice what they support, and I strongly believe this is something we should continue to support.”
“It’s not a political statement,” she said. “It’s not trying to make anyone less important.” She added that she strongly believes the student body wants to support Black Lives Matter as well.
Other board members were also vocal in their support of the banner, particularly Judith Pena-Shaff.
Board of Education Member Randy VanDerzee advised the board to think twice about hanging the sign. “I voted for the sign be out there, too, but I also keep thinking we’re on public grounds,” he said.
On Sept. 2, the board of education sent out a letter to the TCSD community stating that it would be reinstating the banner.
“We understand now that we need to hear all voices before making decisions that affect the entire community,” stated the letter, written by Sherwood on behalf of the board.
Sherwood wrote that in retrospect the board members realized they “acted out of protocol” and that they “can improve the process.”
The letter explains that at the board of education’s last meeting, board members engaged in a “robust conversation” about working toward anti-racism in Trumansburg schools through “Board Goal #4,” which states that the Trumansburg Central School District will provide educational opportunities and experiences which are inclusive and representative of a diverse global community.
Some members of the public said they believed the schools should remain neutral in terms of signage, according to the letter.
“…in hindsight, we now recognize that the sign is symbolic of the strict work currently taking place, and identify the friction it may cause as a first step,” Sherwood said in the letter.
The board decided to place the sign in the schoolyard again until the next board meeting, when the board would have the opportunity discuss the matter further publicly.
“We will also soon be reviewing the school district vision and its goals,” Sherwood wrote, “in particular Goal #4, to better reflect the inclusive and diverse community we strive to be.”
At that board meeting Sept. 9, the board talked about the issue at length before voting to keep the sign up temporarily.
The vote was five to two with Sherwood and VanDerzee voting against keeping the sign in place.
Sherwood said, in the discussion before the vote, that he had second thoughts about the banner because of its perceived political affiliation.
“I did some research on their website and so-forth,” Sherwood said, telling the board that he found #defundthepolice displayed on the Black Lives Matter homepage.
“My question to you is, is that something you can support?” Sherwood asked the board members.
The chair of the board also brought to the board’s attention several links to politically affiliated websites that were also on the BLM website.
Their prominence on the Black Lives Matter page further confuses the issue of whether or not BLM is a political movement and complicates the district’s hanging of the banner, Sherwood said, as the district should not be viewed as supporting any particular political group.
Sherwood also brought up a video that surfaced in the news recently of BLM protestors in an altercation with a couple in Ithaca, calling it “pretty disturbing.”
“The protestors were not peaceful,” he said. “They were very aggressive toward this couple, and when someone tried to help, they got beat.” He said he can see why some people may not support the district advocating for Black Lives Matter at this particular time.
Rebecca Baines made a motion that the board keep the banner in place until a new sign, designed by the faculty, staff, community and students, can be created to put up in place of the banner.
The new, unique statement will not necessarily have to be in the form of a banner, District Superintendent Kimberly Bell said Sept. 22, but she does hope a new message for the schools’ new electronic sign can be crafted by next month.
The electronic sign, which was recently erected to replace an old, nonfunctioning sign, currently states, “Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day.’ -Unknown.”
Bell said the faculty is hard at work doing professional development about racism and how to address the topic with students.
The professional development is taught by Dr. Sharroky Hollie, a national educator providing professional development in the area of cultural responsiveness. The district just made a three-year commitment to his work and kicked it off in September with five hours of professional development followed up by a Zoom meeting with Hollie that was attended by 160 members of the staff.
The meeting included a question and answer period, during which Hollie was asked whether the Black Lives Matter banner should be displayed on school grounds.
“He himself said the district should separate itself from any organization…and what we want to do is focus on the work of the district; we don’t want to tie ourselves to an organization,” Bell said.
The next meeting of the Trumansburg Central School District Board of Education is Oct. 5 at 6 p.m. A link to the Zoom livestream will be provided on the district website, tburgschools.org.