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HV School District BOE Passes Confederate Flag, Swastika Ban

A school district in Ulster County, New York has banned Confederate flags and swastikas. The Onteora Board of Education voted in favor of the ban Tuesday night.

The Board voted 6-1 to implement the ban, which takes effect immediately. Kevin Salem is Onteora Board of Education president. He says the ban follows a lot of anecdotal evidence.

“Anecdotal evidence is what happens when you don’t have a rule to formalize the procedure of actually reporting something,” Salem says.

Board Trustee Valerie Storey was the lone vote in opposition. She voiced concerns about the evidence being anecdotal and not knowing just how many incidents have taken place. Storey also voiced concern about the legality of the ban and other aspects. Salem says the ban is a definitive action at the end of a very deliberative process that took a very long time.

“My hope? That 100 years from now we can say it’s been 100 years since anyone brought a Confederate flag into this school,” says Salem. “That was a good night at the Board table.”

Victoria McLaren is superintendent of the Onteora Central School District, which serves more than 1,200 students.

“I did research. There are other districts across the country who have a similar ban. I’m not aware of any that are the same locally,” says McLaren. “But I feel that Onteora is very unique in our demographics. We are very overwhelmingly white, and so those students of color and of minority standing don’t have the capacity to mount some sort of disruption that would normally be one of the ways that you would consider such a ban.”

She says the ban functions the same as for any other symbol or item banned in the Code of Conduct. There was a public comment session preceding the Board’s vote, and the handful of people who delivered comments all support the ban, including Sneha Kapadia, who has children in the school district. She’s also a local business owner and attorney.

“And I’m a person of color. And I, when I kept hearing about instances of students displaying the Confederate flag, I wondered why was this being allowed in the school,” Kapadia says. “As we can see from Charlottesville, that it’s being, this particular symbol is so inciteful and it leads to violence continuously in this country; I don’t understand why it’s taken so long for it to not be allowed in our school. It’s clearly disruptive.”

Kapadia attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. In August 2017, a white supremacist rally there turned violent. Elaine Conroy teaches English in the school district. She, too, spoke before the Board and says she feels empowered given teachers now have the authority to enforce the ban.

“I think it makes a lot more sense for me to do a lesson about why we do not tolerate the Confederate flag or swastika in the classroom than to do a lesson about why we do tolerate it,” Conroy says.

She says the ban acknowledges oppression.

“When a student in a classroom with 20 kids where two kids represent as African American and 18 kids represent as Caucasian, where, if you’re one of those African-American students and you’re expected to speak up because somebody flashed a Confederate flag belt buckle at you without a policy, you don’t know if the teacher is on your side or not, the system seems to be against you,” says Conroy.

“I think that ultimately the right decision for humanity was made,” Bailey says.

That’s Jeff Bailey, who has a child in the district.

“I think that self-expression is important for a person, but I do think it’s secondary to the safety and the education of children,” says Bailey.

About a year ago, the Board passed a resolution condemning the Confederate flag. Trustee Storey opposed that measure as well.

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