Montpelier, VT – A group of lawmakers have proposed a bill that would prohibit any flag other than an American flag or a Vermont state flag from being flown on public school property in Vermont.
“Everybody, whether you’re black or gay or Hispanic or white, we’re all Americans,” Vermont State Representative Brian Smith, who proposed House Bill 92, told Seven Days. “We all live under one red, white and blue flag.”
Smith said he proposed the ban on anything other than American or Vermont flags after he noticed school boards would “spend hours upon hours” arguing over whether to raise the Black Lives Matter flag over campuses.
Montpelier High School was the first in the state to fly a Black Lives Matter flag under the American flag in front of the school building in 2018, Seven Days reported.
The movement spread across the state but has caused a significant amount of controversy.
Smith, a Republican, said H.92 would simplify matters by codifying that only American and Vermont flags may be flown, Seven Days reported.
He emphasized that the legislation didn’t single out Black Lives Matter or any other individual group, and said Prison of War (POW) flags and other flags representing causes would not be permitted.
Smith argued that not making the restriction a state law would lead to hours more of time-wasting debate by school boards across Vermont, according to Seven Days.
He didn’t explain why he chose to completely ban all other flags with the legislation.
“It just came into my head that this was the way I wanted to do it,” the GOP lawmaker explained. “These other groups have agendas. The American flag and the Vermont state flag are not an agenda flag.”
Smith said he thought his proposed bill would serve to help ease the charged political climate, Seven Days reported.
“I’m a taxpayer — I pay for the public schools,” he said. “Someone that is a fully supportive member of the BLM movement is a taxpayer as well. This takes that person and I from not having to argue over whether the flag should be flown or not.”
“There’s enough conflicts going on right now,” Smith explained. “We don’t need to keep adding to it.”
H.92 is backed by seven more Republican state representatives, Seven Days reported.
Montpelier Roxbury School Board Chair Jim Murphy called Smith’s proposed legislation the “epitome of white privilege.”
Murphy approved the request from the high school to fly the Black Lives Matter flag, Seven Days reported.
“These are issues that have been under the surface and have been the cause and continue to be the cause of a lot of inequity and injustice and hurt in our society,” he said. “Avoiding these discussions benefits those who already have privilege, and keeps those that don’t in the same position they’ve been in.”
Murphy called Smith’s assertions that school board arguments over the Black Lives matter flag were a waste “ridiculous,” Seven Days reported.
He called the discussions “productive debate” that needed to be had by school districts.
“It was both not an onerous debate, and a productive debate that has advanced the educational and other values of the district,” Murphy said. “These are the debates that districts need to be having.”
The Vermont House Education Committee chair, Democratic Representative Kate Webb, told Seven Days in a text that she has no plans to take up the bill during this legislative session, effectively killing it.
Webb waxed nostalgic as she remembered watching the students’ efforts to raise a Black Lives Matter flag at Montpelier High School.
“I cannot imagine being involved in a law that would have made that illegal,” she told Seven Days.