Saratoga Springs schools Superintendent Michael Patton last week backed a teacher’s right to display a Black Lives Matter banner in class after a parent raised concerns that the display was “politically charged.”
During last week’s school board meeting, Patton connected Black Lives Matter to social justice and the district’s broader diversity and inclusion goals, including a recent board resolution “standing against systemic racism.”
“I agree the Black Lives Matter movement promotes social justice, and we have the responsibility to continue to promote creating safe places for all of our students to grow and learn in our schools,” Patton said.
Patton’s comments followed those of a parent, Andrew Sheffield, who expressed his concern that a middle school band teacher displayed a “Black Lives Matter” banner on a splash page for the teacher’s virtual classroom.
The parent said the banner was “very much a political statement” and should only be used in a classroom discussing issues that would involve the movement – as opposed to an expression of a teachers’ particular beliefs.
“I’m not debating the topic of Black Lives Matter, merely that it is a politically-charged statement, especially lately, and doesn’t belong in a classroom that isn’t a social studies class actively discussing the topic,” Sheffield wrote in comments submitted to the school board. “I argue that it very much is a political statement and needs to be removed just like a Blue Lives Matter, MAGA or Biden 2020 [banner] should be removed.”
When the parent raised the concerns with middle school Principal Scott Singer, Singer said the banner was not a political statement and supported the teacher’s right to display it. Patton reiterated that position at the board meeting.
Three writers submitted comments supporting the teacher and the administrators who allowed the teacher to display the banner, highlighting the importance of students seeing expressions of support from educators.
“How can anyone be opposed to Black lives mattering?” one of the teacher’s supporters wrote to the board.
The small flare-up in Saratoga Springs comes as districts across the region grapple with the impact of a national racial justice movements. Districts have taken to considering new policies, public statements and an expansion of curriculum, while managing the complicated political consideration that pervades all of public life.
Districts have also faced mounting pressure from students, recent alumni and educators to ban symbols of hate, like the Confederate flag, and to more explicitly back goals of diversity. Many teachers around the region have sported Black Lives Matter shirts, shared support of the movement on social media or included the movement’s symbols as part of backgrounds for online classes.