School board discusses flag policy and innovation, among other topics

The Black Lives Matter flag issue and the aftermath of the controversy earlier in the year dominated the conversation at the Champlain Valley School District school board meeting on May 21. The meeting at CVU featured talks from current foreign exchange students, an update on proficiency indicators and a lengthy discussion about a comprehensive policy moving forward regarding flag raisings at district schools.

Flag raising
In a previous meeting, the school board requested that the Policy Committee develop a policy regarding raising flags at schools across the district. Earlier this year, a student-led effort to raise a Black Lives Matter flag at Champlain Valley Union High School (CVU) caused the school board to confront the fact that there was no current policy dictating which flags can be flown at CVSD schools.

At issue during the policy discussion on May 21 was the idea that the new policy set before the school board applies only to flags at CVU. The remaining schools in the district are one middle school, one elementary school and three schools that have kindergarten through 8th grade students in the same building. Some school board members were concerned that the topics suggested by certain flags—Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ were among those discussed—would raise questions for young students who might not have the maturity to understand the nuances of what those flags represent.

School board member Russ Caffry said he thought that whatever policy is developed should apply to all schools in the district. “We should be able to craft a policy which is going to be broadly applicable, as opposed to every time someone wants to fly a flag having to come and make presentations to the school board. It should ultimately be an administrative matter,” he said.
Others thought an across-the-board policy didn’t consider younger students. Dave Connery said that, though he understands that middle schoolers are capable of developing opinions, their development is very different across age groups.

Connery suggested leaving the policy as it is currently written and approaching the issue for the younger students once it is tested with the high school students, suggesting that doing so would “limit [the] school district’s risk.”

CVSD Human Resources Director Mark McDermott said that the current policy was developed after he studied “four or five” other policies from school districts and universities that have already handled this matter. “I did enough research to satisfy myself and am going to send it through one more time,” he said. School board member Angela Arsenault was worried that limiting students’ ability to raise a flag that represented a certain group would limit their constitutional right to free speech.

In the end, Chair Lynn Jaunich suggested that the Policy Committee discuss the matter with the current K-8 principals before taking any further action. “I think it’s only fair to get their input before we impose something on them,” she said. If the committee is able to get principal input and come up with needed revisions before the board meets again on June 4, the school board will discuss the policy again and vote on it June 25. Otherwise, the discussion will take place June 25 and the vote will be held in September when school and school board meetings resume.

Other matters
The school board welcomed comments from three foreign exchange students who spent the year at CVU; all three students said they enjoyed their time in Vermont and meeting new friends. One mentioned how rural it is here compared to his home in Spain, and another was thrilled to be on the winning soccer team this fall.

Jeff Evans, the director of learning and innovation, gave a presentation to update the school board on proficiency indicators that have been developed at CVSD schools in recent years. He said that past grading and data collection from standardized testing scores didn’t give as complete a picture of student achievement as the current, more specific model of proficiency-based learning. By giving students specific learning targets and then measuring them as a whole, he said, educators are better able to understand “what students know, understood and can do.”

He said the next step in maximizing CVSD’s usage of this data is to develop a system that works comprehensively across the district and integrates the information into one place.

Chief Operations Officer Jeanne Jensen reported that the school district budget came in “favorable to budget” at the end of the year, with an approximate “slight surplus” of $406,736.

Superintendent Elaine Pinckney reported that Innovation Grants issued by the school district for projects like CCS’s augmented and virtual reality programs, an interdisciplinary art installation at Williston Central School, and a therapeutic play environment created in Hinesburg by guidance counselor Vicki Nelson were all excellent examples of putting grant money to creative use. Out of $112,000 in requests, CVSD was able to award $58,000 in grants to educators who needed funds for projects that reached outside of regular classroom activity.