Last Wednesday night, April 13, saw a jampacked meeting—both in content and crowd size— for the Orange Southwest Supervisory District at the Braintree Elementary School.
Over the nearly three-hour meeting, the board selected its newest member, heard from a horde of frustrated community members on a couple of topics and listened to concerns about a new policy the board is considering adopting.
Opening the meeting, the board heard 45 minutes of public comment, primarily from community members who were angry about the “canceling” of a fundraiser.
That fundraiser, planned by the baseball team and Coach Matt Fordham, had planned to partner with fast-food chain Chick-fil-a. But before the event was finalized, Millington received complaints from people in the LGTBQ+ community, criticizing the choice to work with Chic-fil-a, a company long been mired in controversy for donating millions of dollars to anti-gay organizations.
In an interview this week, Millington said that once he received those complaints, he investigated to determine whether they held merit. He found the claims did hold water, and asked Fordham to choose a different vendor for the fundraising event.
According to Millington, that was the end of it; Fordham agreed to find a different vendor, but enough people have since donated to the team that no fundraising event has been scheduled.
But at Wednesday night’s meeting many people were up in arms about Millington’s decision. Many of those people are parents of current or former RUHS students, but some, such as Brookfield resident John Klar, has no direct ties to the school population.
John Helfant, a parent of current RUHS students, said he would have preferred that the fundraiser was allowed to happen. If people had chosen not to fund the baseball team because of its partnership with Chic-fil-a, that would have been a good lesson on the “free market,” he posited.
Others expressed dismay at the so-called “cancel culture,” that they believe led to the aborted Chic-fil-a fundraiser.
Throughout the public comment period, as discussion got increasingly heated, both superintendent Layne Millington and board chair Anne Kaplan reminded people to wait their turns to speak as people tried to talk over each other.
As the public comments pressed on, Kaplan noted that the board had planned to interview candidates for the open Brookfield seat just 15 minutes after the meeting began. She acknowledged that one of the candidates, Scott Clouatre, had taken time out of a required training for work to be present for the meeting.
However, Clouatre told Kaplan he didn’t mind waiting until later for the interview.
Public comment progressed, with claims that Supt. Millington was too busy promoting “woke ideology” to teach students.
Kaplan reminded people that the board does not typically respond to public comment, rather, she said, if people have complaints they can lodge them by following the district’s complaint policy, which includes an option to send a written complaint to the board, at which point the board would review it.
New Flag Policy?
The next topic that brought lengthy comment was about a new flag policy the board is considering adopting.
The topic was broached after Helfant and others complained that allowing the Black Lives Matter flag to fly at the high school while not allowing other flags to fly could violate the First Amendment.
Board chair Kaplan explained that during the meeting the board wouldn’t vote on the proposed new policy, which would allow only the state and U.S. flags to fly on the school flag pole. Rather, she said, the board would read it once, and revisit it at a later meeting for potential adoption.
Many of the attendees expressed dismay that the flag is still flying while other flags might not be allowed to fly.
Helfant posited that since the board has allowed the Black Lives Matter flag to fly, it would have a hard time saying no if other groups, including hate groups, asked to fly their flags.
“The flag draws requests for other flags to fly, some of which may not be very palatable,” he said. “What would happen if somebody brought that hate speech in the form of a [Ku Klux Klan] flag … they could make that request and you would have a really hard time denying it.”
Dana Decker, who cotaught the racial justice project based-learning class in the years during which its students worked on raising the flag at the school, expressed disappointment that the board was not considering a policy that would allow students to follow a procedure for raising flags that are important to them.
Throughout the meeting students spoke up, too, many expressing support of the flag staying in place.
The board did not respond to any of the comments.
In the days since the meeting, Brookfield resident Klar made a YouTube video in which he falsely claims that the board voted last week to take down the flag.
Board chair Kaplan was unavailable for comment before press time.
Clouatre, who had joined the meeting virtually initially, arrived at the Braintree Elementary School in time to be interviewed in person for the open board seat. Devon Cropley, the other candidate for the seat, attended via video chat.
Each board member asked the candidates questions, and both candidates had a chance to answer each question.
Neither one could point to specific changes they’d like to see within the school.
Both emphasized that they have children in the school system, and that they would like to be on the board to support the community.
After a brief executive session, the board chose to appoint Clouatre to the open Brookfield seat.
A full recording of the meeting is available from orcamedia.net. Supt. Millington scheduled a May 4 public forum at which he hopes people will help “generate the agreements we need to make to one another to heal and to improve our community and our schools.” That forum will be in the RUHS auditorium at 7:15 p.m.
The next school board meeting is May 11, at 6 p.m. at RUHS.
Clarification: Since the initial publication of this story, a paraphased comment by John Helfant was replaced with a direct quote to better express his meaning.