BURLINGTON, Vt. — The Burlington School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to allow student-activists to raise a Black Lives Matter flag on the high school campus, becoming the second public school in the state to do so.
"By raising the BLM flag, we are asking the board to support all of its students. This is an opportunity for the Burlington community to unite to show where our moral compass points: toward progress," the students said, reading from their resolution.
Almost a dozen students wearing Black Lives Matter shirts took a petition of more than 450 signatures from Burlington High School in favor of raising the flag to present Tuesday to the School Board.
The flag confronts national statistics regarding police shootings of black citizens. A Black Lives Matter flag first was raised at a Vermont school at Montpelier High on Feb. 1, the start of Black History Month, drawing national praise along with backlash.
"The Social Justice Union feels strongly that Burlington High School (BHS) should stand in solidarity with Montpelier High School in the raising of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) flag," the student resolution states.
Burlington High School was 37% non-white in the 2016-17 school year, with 16% of students registering as black, according to state data. About 5% of Montpelier High School's student body were black in a population where 15% of students were registered as non-white, according to the same data.
"Flying the BLM flag not only recognizes students of color, but it also creates a welcoming ethos and helps to bridge Burlington communities," the resolution signed by Burlington students stated. The group consisted of the Burlington High School Social Justice Union along with students Rivan Calderin, Hawa Adam, Balkisa Omar, Eliza Abedi, Binti Malawia and Eli Pine.
Pine wrote last week that the group hoped to fast-track a flag-raising at the high school. Some students participated in an action they called a blackout.
South Burlington High School alumnus Kiran Waqar, who is part of the slam poetry group Muslim Girls Making Change, added her voice in support of the student action.
"Several high schools are having a blackout in honor of all those who lost their lives to police brutality. Students are wearing black at South Burlington High School, Burlington High School, Milton High School, and I think Montpelier High School," Waqar, an organizer of last year's blackout, wrote Tuesday morning.
The inspiration to raise the flag came after Burlington students Abedi, Omar, Malawia, Pine and others attended Montpelier High School's Black Lives Matter flag raising.
"As we drove away from the school, the flag flew high and everyone I was with said that this will be BHS next week. We are hopeful," Pine wrote in a statement following the event in Vermont's capital city. "I thought that if this can be done in Montpelier, it can be done in Burlington."
"My parents always taught me that if you want to get something done you have to go the extra mile," senior Rivan Calderin, 17, said before Tuesday's School Board meeting began.
Fellow petitioner and senior Marissa Cobeo, 18, offered advice to students in other districts hoping to take a similar action.
"Don't be afraid to come in not knowing. I took the step to ask my peers questions," Cobeo said.
The students first asked Principal Tracy Racicot and Superintendent Yaw Obeng for permission to raise the flag. But a bureaucratic road block took the issue before School Board.
Racicot, according to School District spokesman Russ Elek, wanted to remain in the background and give her students agency, but she said in a statement Monday that she was proud to have student voices that challenge the status quo.
"Our youth are brave and certain in their beliefs. We stand beside all of our students as they choose to make a difference in the world," Racicot said.
Obeng, who was wearing a traditional northern Ghanaian shirt over his dress shirt and tie Tuesday, was there to support the students, as well.
"I'm in full support of the students and their drive to have this social justice conversation," Obeng said.
Board member Kathy Olwell said just before the board meeting that the flag would promote frank conversations about race, which she thought were needed in the district.
Teachers' union president Fran Brock said during a public comment that she and the teachers of Burlington take pride in their students.
"They represent the strength and success of the district," Brock said.
Obeng said the flag likely would be raised Monday.
"This is the beginning of everything," Cobeo said. "We are so excited and grateful."
Follow Nicole Higgins DeSmet on Twitter: @NicoleHDeSmet