Student, parent express concerns over 'Blue Lives Matter' flag at VCSC events

A Terre Haute North Vigo High School student and her mother are raising concerns about the high school's football team flying the Blue Lives Matter flag at football games, as well as North faculty and staff wearing Blue Lives Matter masks.

Wende Personette and her daughter, Lela Porter, addressed the school board during Monday night's meeting. After the meeting, Personette described Blue Lives Matter as a counter movement to Black Lives Matter "and a divisive political symbol that makes some people feel uncomfortable." 

 "We are definitely not anti-police. We support our police 100%," Personette said. "But we also don't want to make students feel uncomfortable." 

Porter, a North Vigo senior, read statements from some other students who said that seeing faculty and staff wearing the Blue Lives Matter masks makes some Black students feel they are not safe or welcome at North.

Porter also said, "There's not many Black students at North, so we're already under-represented, and to have them carry out that flag [at football games] just seems disrespectful."

Personette asked school officials if there is a rule about wearing politicized gear, and if so, to enforce it. If there isn't such a rule, there should be one, she said.

Personette, who teaches at another school, said that as a teacher, "I don't think you ever want any of your students to feel irrelevant or uncomfortable in your classroom ... Students should not feel unsafe going to their own school.That's the place they should feel safest." 

After the meeting, when speaking with media, Superintendent Rob Haworth said the district had previously been made aware of the concerns. The district's vision statement and core values "really do speak to inclusion; they speak to the value of all students," he said.

But the district also wants to be collaborative in its approach. "We do not want any student walking down the hallway fearful," Haworth said. "So we'll take those comments to heart." The district has been "working on that situation."  

Status of sex ed curriculum

In another matter,  Ruth Fairbanks, who has been critical of the district's use of the Creating Positive Relationships program as part of its sex education curriculum, wanted to know the status of outside evaluations.

Claire Craigmyle spoke of the importance of including the LGBTQ community in the sex ed curriculum.

Haworth said one outside review came back about 3 1/2 weeks ago, and the district also has received a draft copy of a second outside review. The district also has secured a facilitator. Haworth hopes to set up a meeting of the board's sex education committee for next week.

He believes that after perhaps two more meetings of that committee, a recommendation will be forwarded to the full School Board.

2021 budget hearing

The school board also conducted a hearing on the proposed 2021 budget. The district advertised a total budget of $165.8 million for 2021, including: $101.8 million education fund; $42.9 million operations fund; $8.9 million debt service fund; $3.5 million rainy day fund; and $8.5 million referendum fund.

No member of the public commented.

The maximum to be raised from local property taxes is $48.7 million, but officials emphasize that levies and tax rates are traditionally advertised high to protect revenues and will be adjusted later by the state.

The education fund is state-funded through tuition support, based on enrollment, while the operations fund is reliant on local property taxes, with some subsidy from the education fund.

This year's 2020 approved budget is $166.4 million. Also, the approved tax levy for 2020 is $38.4 million, and the current tax rate (including referendum) is 94 cents per $100 assessed value, and 78 cents per $100 assessed value without the referendum.

Budget adoption is Oct. 19, and the district anticipates a steady tax rate and levy.

This year, the district did not purchase new school buses as part of its efforts to reduce costs. In 2021, the district may also reduce the number of buses it traditionally purchases as part of its bus replacement plan, said Donna Wilson, chief financial officer.

The 2021 budget does include the replacement of 17 buses at a cost not to exceed $1,875,000. But the administration will revisit that to determine how many buses, if any, need to be replaced in light of less than normal use this year due to suspension of school and COVID-19, Wilson said.

She described the 2021 budget as a "very responsible budget," one that seeks to maintain a level tax rate yet also maintain the district's portion of local tax dollars.

Haworth noted that enrollment is down about 400 students this year and he is concerned about the impact on the state-funded education fund, which is based on enrollment. Also, COVID-19 has hurt state revenues, which also could impact school funding.

In terms of the operations budget, supported primarily through local tax dollars, "I think what taxpayers will find is that it is a great reflection of what we told them it would look like when we were having the referendum talks," Haworth said.

Personnel

Under personnel, a revision was made in one item. Initially, the district recommended the termination of school bus driver Lorri Ugo for "just cause." On Monday, the item was revised and the board accepted the driver's resignation.

VCSC spokesman Bill Riley said he could not comment on a personnel matter.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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