NEFAC Calls on South Burlington High School to Allow Press at Black History Month Event

Media Restrictions Impede Coverage of Black Lives Matter Flag Raising, Community Dialogue on Race

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |

The New England First Amendment Coalition called on South Burlington (Vt.) High School to rescind media restrictions it imposed on an outdoors Black History Month event scheduled for this afternoon.

Students at the school plan to raise a Black Lives Matter flag to increase the community’s understanding of racial inequity, according to a school district press release. The district, however, is closing the event to all members of the public including the press, a restriction NEFAC considers an unnecessary infringement on the rights of journalists.

In a Jan. 31 joint email to South Burlington Superintendent David Young, NEFAC and the Vermont Press Association wrote the following:

“The current media restriction prevents journalists from viewing the event up close or documenting student reaction as the flag is raised. Journalists must station themselves across the street from school property and report from afar. This is an unnecessary infringement on the right of journalists to enter public property — property supported by taxpaying citizens — to report on a story of great public interest. Not to mention, by barring the press, the school district invites the suspicion of community members who may speculate about the purpose of the school’s secrecy.”

The organizations called attention to the recent community dialogue about race — the high school controversially changed its mascot name from the Rebels to avoid ties to Confederate imagery — and the country’s current political climate. Given these circumstances, the raising of a Black Lives Matter flag and the yearlong deliberation among students and staff whether to do so is a story of great interest, NEFAC and the press association wrote.

“South Burlington High School students gave much thought and consideration to this event over the course of a year and their efforts should be fully recognized in the community,” the groups wrote to Superintendent Young. “We urge you to reconsider the media restriction and allow members of the press to attend the flag raising ceremony. Only with this access can South Burlington residents better understand the significance of the event and the extent of the students’ involvement.”

NEFAC’s demand is one of many ways the coalition is defending the First Amendment and the public’s right to know in Vermont. Most recently, the coalition opposed media registration and limits on the use of cameras in state courtrooms; condemned censorship at Burlington High School and then worked with the district on a new student journalism policy; testified in support of legislation that would broaden the state’s public records law; and educated communities about the value of the First Amendment and journalism.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.