Editorial: Monday mix on Confederate flag, stormwater fee and entrepreneurs

  • Dozens of students, parents and other community members staged a demonstration at Easthampton High School the morning of May 8 to show a "disruption of education" after a student wore a Confederate flag sweatshirt to school May 3. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Easthampton School Committee made the right decision last week in banning the Confederate flag from the high school through the end of this school year.

However, it should not have taken a disruption manufactured by parents, students and other community members for officials to rightfully prohibit the Confederate flag from being worn at the school, where troubling concerns have been raised in recent weeks about its racial climate.

The issue surfaced May 3 when a student wore a sweatshirt with an image of the Confederate flag. Principal Kevin Burke said he spoke to the student who refused to take off the sweatshirt.

Superintendent Nancy Follansbee sent an email later that week to all Easthampton School District parents, staff and administrators, as well as city officials, which said, “State and federal law protects a student’s right to freedom of speech, and this includes wearing clothing with a symbol of the Confederate flag.”

Administrators decided that the flag did not fall under regulations in the high school student handbook prohibiting clothing that “disrupts or substantially interferes with the educational process or with another student’s ability to receive an education.”

That prompted dozens of students and parents to gather outside the high school for about 20 minutes May 8 to create a “disruption of education.” They then staged a sit-in at the school’s Cafe Commons, with the adults citing “education disruption” as the reason for their visit.

Burke banned the Confederate flag from the school May 8 and 9, until the school board could consider the issue. The committee voted 5-1 Tuesday to ban the flag through June 26 when the school year ends.

We believe administrators should have recognized from the start that the Confederate flag — a symbol of white supremacy — is painful for many people, could make students of color fearful and clearly has the potential to disrupt education at the high school.

The School Committee, in extending the ban for the rest of the school year, said it would review the policy during the summer. We hope the board makes the ban permanent and convenes a wide-ranging dialogue involving the entire school community about the root causes of racism and other hateful actions.

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We sympathize with Northampton residents who believe a stormwater fee adopted in 2014 is a financial burden that eventually will contribute to some people leaving the city. Their attempt to force a vote calling for the measure’s repeal failed when the city’s attorney ruled last week that their petition was filed too late.

We favor reviewing the fee for possible adjustments rather than its outright repeal. It was established to help pay for additional work required by the federal government involving inspections and stormwater controls to protect waterways from pollution. The impact is particularly expensive for communities like Northampton because of the Connecticut River.

The stormwater fee produces about $2 million a year, which has been spent on improvements including unclogging culverts to keep roads from flooding, and maintaining 124 miles of stormwater infrastucture.

We urge Mayor David Narkewicz to review the fee and its credit policy, perhaps offering greater reductions for property owners who make improvements to their own drainage systems. Broader financial incentives to encourage private infrastructure improvements make sense to help meet the federal requirements.

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Kudos to Valley Venture Mentors for expanding its support of entrepreneurship in western Massachusetts by establishing a Collegiate Accelerator program this year. The Springfield nonprofit is giving 20 students from nine colleges in the region $2,000 stipends so they can participate in a summer training program to help advance their startup businesses.

Valley Ventures CEO Liz Roberts said the program is intended to help guide students through the initial stages of starting a business. “Entrepreneurship can be lonely and isolating, and you might not have the support in your family or your peer group. So there’s really that support, and tools and a clear path to success.”

Among the participants is Carly Forcade, a 23-year-old senior at Mount Holyoke College, who hopes to develop partnerships with travel companies for her forum encouraging LGBTQ travelers to share their experiences.

The collegiate partnership provides welcome support for young entrepreneurs to ease their way into a competitive marketplace.