OUR POSITION: Diversity, controversy, respect. A teachable moment.
A thumbs up is due Charlotte County school officials and representatives of the black community who sat down to hash out differences over what had suddenly become a viral controversy over the dismantling of a Black History Month display at Port Charlotte High School.
Monday’s meeting was a mature, measured response to a situation that has the potential to grow to a cable-news-caliber story that would cast a questionable light on the Charlotte County School District.
Deservedly, we think, which is why the public response, when it does come, will be telling.
Participating in the meeting at district offices were Supt. Steve Dionisio, Port Charlotte High School principal Lou Long, school spokesman Mike Riley, a union representative, the Rev. Louis Anderson, head of the local chapter of the NAACP; and high school teacher Alissa Perry, who commemorated Black History Month with an art display of the blacklisted former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick on her classroom door.
With only a few days remaining in February—Black History Month—Perry was ordered to take down the Kaepernick display. The order by school officials came after more than a dozen parents and visitors complained.
Perry complied, tearfully. A video of her dismantling the display was recorded on video and sent out on Twitter, where views grew exponentially.
Monday’s meeting lasted hours. Immediately afterwards, Dionisio, Riley and Anderson would only tell Sun reporters outside the room they had a plan, that it would be fair, that they were happy with it and would meet again to refine it.
It was a disappointing response, in part because the Sun staff had been invited specifically to the meeting, then were suddenly dis-invited and left in the hallway outside the closed-door meeting. Thumbs down for that.
More than professional inconvenience, though, was the refusal to put the slightest amount of flesh on the bare bone of a vague “plan.”
Plan for what? School displays? Policies? Personnel? Procedures? Communications?
Or what, exactly, was the issue?
Or, bigger picture, what constitutes the teaching of history? What’s fair game? Who determines what is, or is not, an appropriate expression of what some may see as controversial subjects? Can individuals express a point of view without fear of reprisals from activists? Do we back down from the hint of controversy? Worse, bullying? Is that what happened?
Then, why let the controversy stew while the community engages in debate? Without more explanation beyond a secret “plan?” Twitter never sleeps.
We do expect the district to come to a fair resolution that respects the value of many voices expressing varying points of view. Even a district whose motto is “One Voice.” That’s the value of diversity: Many voices contribute bring a healthy, well-rounded perspective. Some Colin Kaepernick as a villian denigrating a societal norms, others a hero expressing his frustration in peaceful protest, modern-day Dr. Martin Luther King, as Perry put it. History is context. How will we read this history when it is still fresh?
Call this a teachable moment. Ask, what’s the lesson for the community—during Black History Month and 11 others? What the lesson we will impart to Charlotte County’s schoolchildren as they live this and when they look back 50 years from now?