By Guy Page
The wagons are circled. As white men and women alike fire rifles at the whooping, circling Indians, children huddle together inside the circle. The hard-pressed defenders hope the cavalry will arrive.
That iconic scene from western history, art and film is playing out right now in Vermont.
The wagons are Vermont’s public schools. Driven deep into new territory with determined educators and school board members at their reins, schools have become the battlefield for fierce opposition by the locals. Like the Plains Indians of old, some Vermonters are upset the old traditions have been discarded by the newcomers’ strange ideas like Critical Race Theory, gender identification and mandatory masking.
The natives are restless, especially the tribes living in rural Northern Vermont. Great White Father in Washington, D.C. is preoccupied and unresponsive. Lately they’ve become suspicious about whose side he’s really on. They’ve tried to reason with the settlers – “these are our lands and our ways, stop what you’re doing.”
One chief on the warpath is Ben Morley of Orleans, Vermont organizer for Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism. He has been accused of “McCarthyism” by a school superintendent and threatened with losing his State of Vermont job because he asked questions during a required ‘equity and diversity’ training.
But on Monday, the first day of school, he was just a dad who had to call the school twice to learn why his middle school child (and other students in the classroom) had been asked to publicly declare his “identity pronouns.” Morley thinks it’s harmful to ask a young teenager to declare his or her gender identity in front of his or her peers. He asked to see the teacher’s lesson plan. School principal April Lang responded with this written version of a ruler rap on the knuckles, or to extend the history metaphor, a warning shot from her Winchester [excerpt below]:
“We are denying your request for Mr. Carbonetti’s lesson plan. It is clear that your intention is to not engage in discourse but to use the information to publicly attack a teacher who is simply doing their job. This is evident by the fact that Mr. Carbonetti’s name, your interpretation of his lesson, as well as information on how to contact him were posted on Facebook. You did this before receiving correspondence from the teacher. Typically, when parents have questions, they reach out and engage with the teacher. Parents also have the option of including the principal if they have additional questions or concerns. Additionally, from time to time, the superintendent may be involved. Your approach in this situation creates the conditions for a hostile and potentially unsafe environment for not only Mr. Carbonetti but also other teachers who are trying to establish trusting relationships with their students.
“You have expressed interest in our mentoring program. However, at this time we believe that some repair to the harm that you have caused would be necessary before we consider having you participate in the mentoring program. As mentioned above, staff do not feel safe based on your actions.”
“Potentially unsafe!” Circle the wagons!
As Vermont parents are learning, saying you ‘feel unsafe’ is the racial/gender identity activist’s go-to defensive technique when someone objects strenuously to their latest initiative.
In nearby Hardwick, parents and students alike became upset after the new school principal seemed to group burning the American flag along with other forms of protest. The comments of Caleb Heath of Hardwick seem to echo the concerns of Indians who worried that the newcomers weren’t about co-existence: “This hate and indoctrination that is being pushed on our children is clearly all around us. Parents and students are outraged and rightfully so. If we sit back and allow moments like this to go unchecked, I fear attacks like this will only continue until this becomes the new normal that our children grow to accept.”
To the territory in the west, parents have appeared en masse at school board meetings in the Swanton and Enosburg school districts to protest their children being forced to wear masks.
Riding to the rescue of educators who for good or ill are deliberately choosing new CRT and pro-mask policies are the cavalry, in the form of Gov. Phil Scott and the President Pro Tem of the Vermont Senate, Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham County.) Sen. Balint very publicly took Republican “colleague” Sen. Russ Ingalls (R-Orleans) to the woodshed for sharing Morley’s post after teacher Sam Carbonetti tweeted he had been “doxxed” (outed) by anti-CRT forces.
Balint says she thoroughly studied the issue. She condemns Ingalls for sharing “a private citizen’s email.” Yet Morley’s post, shared by Ingalls, only cites the public, school email – which is also available on the school’s website.
Besides publicly chastising a ‘colleague’ for standing up for his constituents, Balint threatened to expand the Senate ethics rules to include his behavior. (Balint’s other job has been as a schoolteacher.)
Captain Becca of the Cavalry to the rescue!
Gov. Phil Scott also made it clear he’s had it with parents getting upset at school boards. In an uncommon move, he had his comments from yesterday’s press conference published and emailed to the media, including this excerpt:
“The school boards and superintendents who are implementing masking policies are simply doing what the State – at my direction – is recommending. The attacks towards them are absolutely unacceptable, and if they want to blame someone, they can blame me.
“Now, it is good news – and a reason for optimism – that the data does not justify a State of Emergency. But the fact remains that without one, the State cannot unilaterally mandate these policies, which is exactly why we provided the advisory recommendations for schools to implement these mandates. Because this is what we believe schools should be doing at this point.
“So, again, I want to be very clear to those who are upset at their school district: They are simply following the State’s advice.”
Colonel Scott of the Cavalry seems to be saying: “Hey, disgruntled parents – the boards don’t have to mandate masks – but I think they should! So lighten up!”
Will the parents adapt to the newcomers’ ways? Or will they press home their war of words and petitions and, ultimately, votes in an effort to keep their traditions? And here’s the real question:
Those children huddling in the center of the circled wagons – whose are they?