(Image Source: Pelham Daily Voice)
After a group of unidentified staff members in the Pelham Middle and High School wore political attire related to Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter to work, the New York Pelham Board of Education decided that a reinforcement of policy had to be made.
On Wednesday, November 18th at 6:30 pm, the Pelham Board of Education held their bi-monthly meeting to discuss the employment history of a particular person(s), but it was not opened to the public for viewing until 7:30.
The public meeting began with the Board’s Vice President Sue Childs passing the mic to the board’s president Jessica Domenico, who had to appear virtually. Domenico stated that the Board of Education continues to support and applaud the district’s Superintendent, Dr. Cheryl H. Champ, for her decisions regarding politically charged issues in the community.
“We [the board] also unanimously support the fair and consistent application of board policy with regard to political speech by district employees,” Domenico said. “These discussions were never intended to be about law enforcement officers, and we have never wavered in our support for local police or with police officers as a whole.” Domenico goes on to state that the school district appreciates the police, and that they have a very close working relationship with police forces.
Subsequently, Domenico read a statement from the Pelham Mayor, Gary W. Waters. Waters’ statement included a note that he had been meeting with administrators and police weekly, “along with six of our BIPOC neighbors to ensure that our police department is one that can earn the respect of every resident in our village.”
Dr. Champ proceeded to read her statement. Dr. Champ had received several complaints from students over district staff wearing the blue line flag in school, a show of support for police. These students said that the symbol made them uncomfortable because it had become associated with threatening political alliances. They then requested that the blue flag be banned from staff attire. To ensure the students’ sense of belonging and comfort, she “asked staff members to discontinue wearing clothing displaying the thin blue line emblem on school grounds.”
Shortly after this announcement, certain staff members came to school wearing shirts that displayed the names of Black individuals killed in encounters with police, with a fist on the back of the shirt. Dr. Champ was approached with similar concerns regarding the shirts, asking staff members to refrain from wearing Black Lives Matter attire.
Dr. Champ stated that the district addressed the issues as they were raised, not based on her political opinions or the presidential election, and apologized for “not enforcing the policy evenly at its outset.”
This policy regarding political attire with district staff does not apply to students. Students are permitted to wear political clothing representing their perspective as long as it does not disrupt the school environment. Dr. Champ stated that the district’s responsibility is to create an unbiased environment in schools, where students are comfortable and have the ability to express themselves.
After further discussion about the district’s continuation of a close relationship with the police and the actions taken over these events, Childs motioned to open the floor to public comment.
Carla Caccavale, a Pelham police officer, was the first to speak. Caccavale expressed frustration with the initial uneven enforcement of the policy, then discussed her own personal experiences, saying that her children and family had been personally attacked in relation to the controversy. Caccavale finished by saying that Pelham had already missed the mark on a “very teachable moment”, and that the district must focus on catching the next one.
Later on, community member Anne Marie Garcia rose to voice her opinion. “This started because children expressed fear and concern… it’s really important we understand where we stand, which is in a school full of students.” Garcia then addressed the adults, saying, “here we have children who are in the minority… who say they are fearful of approaching a staff member because of a symbol they see on their apparel. It is our job as adults to address that. It is not on the children to figure out ‘wow, this is a teachable moment.’ It’s not.”
A total of thirteen people expressed to the Board of Education their thoughts on the matter. The majority of them gave their regards and respect to Dr. Champ in this unprecedented time but criticized the actions that were taken to resolve this issue.
After everyone had spoken, Childs closed public comment and the Board proceeded to discuss updates on authentic learning, finances and facility, a revised 2020–2021 calendar, and donations to the district. The Pelham Board of Education ended the meeting with a unanimous decision regarding the finalization of policy 3285, the naming of school facilities.