GRAND LEDGE – Displays of the Confederate flag and other “racially divisive messages, images and symbols” won’t be allowed on Grand Ledge Public Schools property when school starts this fall.
The district’s Board of Education voted unanimously to include new language in the student handbook that would ban them Monday night.
In the last month and a half, amid calls to address systematic racism within the district, students and parents have described seeing the symbol on school grounds during Board of Education meetings.
Their accounts came after Brian Metcalf, superintendent since 2011, made comments on social media that placed blame on George Floyd for his own death at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis. Metcalf was placed on paid administrative leave June 5, less than a week after making the comments.
Board trustee Sara Clark Pierson said school officials have received more than 800 emails about Metcalf’s comments and racism in the school system since.
As the district moves to terminate his employment, school officials voted to include language in the district’s student handbook that bans the Confederate flag, along with other “racially divisive messages, images and symbols on school grounds.”
The exact language included in the handbook could be modified before the handbook is approved by the board in August. It will appear in more than one section of the handbook, including sections that address student dress and school parking lots.
Board trustee Patrick McKennon said he’s concerned including the word “divisive” could lead people to believe it includes displaying other messages like “Black Lives Matter.”
McKennon suggested describing banned messages and symbols as “racially intimidating or threatening” instead.
“I just don’t want a word like divisive to be used in the wrong way,” he said.
Parents praised the board for moving forward with the handbook language. No one spoke against the added language during the meeting, but a few had concerns.
Erica Ledesma, a parent, said language being added to the section of the handbook addressing symbols in school parking lots needs to include vehicles that drive through it, rather than on just parked vehicles.
“I hope that we really are taking this seriously,” she said.
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Chapin has said enforcement of the ban would start as “a teachable moment” about the “offensive, racist nature behind that flag,” he said.
But Rachel Kuntzsch, a parent, said there needs to be consequences for students who violate the policies more than once.
“There needs to be some sort of a disciplinary structure,” she said.
Earlier this month David Chapin, who started as the district’s interim superintendent June 15, said he was aware of an area of the high school’s student parking lot where several vehicles display the Confederate flag during the school year.
He didn’t know then how many times the displays were reported to staff or what, if any, action staff took to address it.
Several members of Grand Ledge’s Board of Education have said they didn’t realize the Confederate flag had been regularly displayed on school grounds each school year, although many parents and staff say that it has been displayed for years.
School officials have already begun to address a list of demands from the Grand Ledge Alliance for Diversity, a newly-formed community group that asked for a plan for ensuring “inclusion, diversity and equity” within the district.
The board created a committee for equity, diversity and inclusion last month, appointing three board members, Ben Cwayna, Pierson, and Jon Shiflett.