School Board votes to end ban on Confederate Flag

After reading a five-page letter written by their attorney stating they had the legal right to enact a ban on disruptive symbols, the Dolores School Board of Education voted to lift the ban on the Confederate Flag Tuesday.

The standing-room only crowd in the district office board room erupted in applause after the 5-0 vote to end the band on "hate symbols" which has been in place at the Dolores Schools since mid-December.

"In retrospect the board should have weighed in on this sooner," Board member Jon Kelly said.

Kelly added that if a student or students' behavior is disrupting the educational environment, that the behavior needs to be dealt with, not symbols.

"It was well within the district's rights to implement the ban," Kelly said. "This issue has unfortunately been extremely divisive to the community. It has taken the focus off of why we are all here tonight, why the board is here tonight and we are all here because we want to provide the best possible education for our children."

Before voting to lift the ban, Superintendent Scott Cooper explained to the board that the ban was made after a hateful display was placed in a teacher's classroom. According to police reports, a piece of wood was found in a teacher's classroom with the words "NOBAMA" and a Confederate flag burned into it, along with three hateful things about homosexuals directed at the teacher.

Cooper explained that there was immediate action following the incident and the student was disciplined.

"In conjunction with that, there was a growing concern around a group of students who were rallying behind (the student responsible) and protesting the fact the student was in in-school suspension," Cooper said.

The student, Cooper added, also said he didn't do anything wrong and there was a number of students that felt what he did was not wrong

"It got very ugly very fast," Cooper said.

Cooper said the incident sparked students to make threats on the president and the teacher.

"We are not going to tolerate hate crimes," Cooper said.

Students who attended the meeting told the board that they felt the flag actually became more of a problem after it was banned.

One student wore a Dukes of Hazard T-shirt and a Confederate Flag belt buckle that had been covered with tape.

Kelly apologized to the crowd for not weighing in on the issue sooner as a board.

In the letter, written in response to a letter from a Denver-based civil rights attorney last week, the School District's attorney, Darryl L. Farrington, claimed there was no censorship of the student newspaper.

"There has not been any retaliation or censorship against anyone," Kelly said.

Last week, a group of parents alleged in a letter from a civil rights attorney, that censorship and intimidation had occurred.

"I think personally that bullying isn't as much of a problem with our kids, but our parents," Board President Alan Thayer said before voting for the repeal of the ban.

But he did not agree with the ban.

"I believe the ban was a slap to freedom and should have been dealt with at the student level as a bullying issue," Thayer said.

Board member Deanna Truelsen said the community needs to be careful with its words and how they are used.

"The term hick, red neck seems to have been thrown around a lot this year," Truelsen said. "We are a rural community ... so we are red necks and proud of it."

Board member Linnea Vass said the whole incident has shown her that some need lessons on manners.

"Manners and behavior starts at home," Vass told the parents. "I have seen poor manners and etiquette."

Cooper told the board he was concerned this move will prove that this would be a victory for bullies, "I hope not," he said.

Also Tuesday, the board voted to allow the student government group to bring in Jamie Utt, a diversity and inclusion consultant and presenter.

He deals with issues of discrimination and bullying and will put on a seminar for the students and community. He is expected to put on his seminar in April.

Board members also voted to bring in a mediator so that the school district and community could come back together.

Audience members stayed at the school board meeting until around 11:30 p.m. Audience members, still upset with the board and the administration, continued to bring up issues with the board and middle and high school administration, including an eligibility issue.

One parent said she was embarrassed at the low number of students eligible to play sports lately.

The district vowed to look into the issue. In addition, the district voted to delay a decision on how the school pays for concurrent enrollment and decided to look at an offer to build a Verizon tower near the bus barn at another time.

After audience members suggested, the board also decided to give the superintendent's review, which was scheduled in closed session on Tuesday, for the meeting on March 26, to give the community a chance to fill out a survey on his performance, which has yet to be posted online.

The board voted to cancel the March 12 meeting.