Education

A Wake County school removed Black Lives Matter signs. Parents aren’t happy about it.

The potted pansies and signs Stephanie Lormand placed in a flowerbed at Conn Elementary School in east Raleigh.
The potted pansies and signs Stephanie Lormand placed in a flowerbed at Conn Elementary School in east Raleigh. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Lormand

A parent at Conn Elementary School in east Raleigh wants the school to put back two Black Lives Matter signs she planted on campus, but that appears unlikely to happen.

Stephanie Lormand went to Conn Elementary on Sunday to place some potted pansies in a flowerbed outside the cafeteria, which is on the front side of the campus. While there, she also planted two Black Lives Matter signs embellished with the names of people and institutions that helped shape Southeast Raleigh.

“The next morning, the assistant principal took them down,” Lormand said on Wednesday.

That’s because the signs ran afoul of the school system’s policy on the distribution of materials, said schools spokeswoman Lisa Luten.

“It’s not that the school doesn’t agree with the message or that the district doesn’t agree with the message,” Luten said by phone on Wednesday. “It’s that it doesn’t relate to the school program.”

Luten said signs and other distributed materials must relate directly to what’s happening in the schools. For example, a sign can promote the dates and times of a school play or next Key Club meeting.

And while Lormand, during Black History Month, embellished her signs with the names of people and institutions important to the area, “it doesn’t sound like the addition of that information would be related to the school program,” Luten said.

Luten also noted that Conn Elementary has a couple of Black History Month events planned for February and that the school has an equity team, a core group of teachers creating strategies to address equity issues at the school. Such teams are in place at other Wake schools as part of an equity initiative in the district, Luten said.

Given that initiative, it makes little sense to remove her signs, Lormand said. “Especially over the last year, the Wake County school board has made a conscious effort to push race equity into focus at the schools – much more than anything that’s been done in Wake County, ever,” she said. “But we need to see that spirit of action happening in an authentic, accountable way at the school level.”

“White parents and educators cannot hope to interrupt systemic racism if we aren’t always open to hearing the ways we serve to maintain it, even when we think we are trying hard,” Lormand added. “It’s really crucial that individual schools have an accountability partnership with the community – both in the school and outside of it.”

Lormand thought she was aiding that cause when she planted her signs along with pansies. “The Conn Elementary PTA Green Team planted flowers AND knowledge yesterday,” she said in a Facebook post on Monday.

Lormand said she is captain of the Conn Elementary PTA Green Team, a landscaping and beautification group. “At the end of January, the assistant principal and magnet coordinator asked that I brighten up the front garden bed. So I did,” she said.

After finishing her landscaping on Sunday, she snapped a photo of her handiwork and shared it on social media.

“And even though I did not place the signs with prior PTA permission, the Conn PTA also shared the Facebook post,” Lorman said.

In an email to Lormand on Monday, Conn Elementary principal Gary Duvall said the school removed the signs because he didn’t know who or what organization had placed them there. “We didn’t realize that this was from the Green Team,” he wrote. “Typically, we have all signs and poster turned in for prior review before we post anything on campus. I don’t have any issues with the signs themselves, but I didn’t know the organization or who put the signs in place.”

That email led Lormand to ask Duvall whether the signs would go back up.

He suggested yes but wondered whether Lormand would be OK with posting the black history information without the Black Lives Matter signs, sponsored by a group known as Showing Up for Racial Justice. “We do not typically have signs that promote a particular organization,” he said.

Lormand said she had a problem excluding the BLM signs. “Those words affirm half our school population’s importance,” she told Duvall. “Southeast Raleigh history affirms the contributions made by black folks in our area since the mid-1800s.”

“This is our time for our school to show that we mean it when we talk about equity – by keeping the signs as-is and challenging anyone who thinks those three words are a political statement rather than a message of support and inclusion for our student body,” she added.

Scott Bolejack: 919-836-5747, @ScottBolejack

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