READFIELD — When the Maranacook school board met a week ago, it made a small change to the evening’s agenda — deleting an agenda item about the flag.

What was not apparent at that time was the storm that flared up over a proposed policy change about the flag.

“It’s tabled. It’s going to stay tabled. We’ve got more important things to do now,” Gary Carr, chairman of the school board and the board’s Policy Committee, said earlier this week.

The school district encompasses Readfield, Manchester, Mount Vernon and Wayne.

At the heart of the dispute is wording that dates back more than 30 years, to a decade when for a time the national debate centered on flag burning and resulted in a 1989 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States invalidating state laws prohibiting the desecration of the American flag.

As proposed, the addition reads: “It shall be the duty of instructors to impress upon the youth by suitable references and observances the significance of the flag, to teach them the cost, the object and principles of our government, the inestimable sacrifices made by the founders of our nation, the important contribution made by all who have served in the armed services of our country since its inception, and to teach them to love, honor, and respect the flag of our country that costs so much and is so dear to every true American citizen.”

The wording comes directly from the state education statute, where it’s been on the books since 1985.

It’s also the wording in the model policy provided by the Maine School Management Association, which serves both school boards and district superintendents in Maine.

In the hours before the meeting, a number of people apparently called the district office with concerns about the policy.

Among them was Lisa Clarq.

“On Tuesday night, someone texted me about the policy,” she said. “I was horrified.”

Clarq, who is a self-confessed neophyte when it comes to school board matters, said her concern is philosophic, because she thinks respect can’t be taught or forced.

“In forcing people to respect something, you are negating the First Amendment, which is that you can say and do and think whatever the heck you want, because that’s what we’re about,” she said. “In my mind, the sacrifices that people make for our country are made to protect that First Amendment, and not to shove the flag down people’s throats.”

The matter was removed from the agenda.

“Given today’s environment and what that can mean to different people and some of the political happenings that are going on, do we really want something that’s contentious or will heighten awareness or resistance to what we are trying to do at school? We don’t want to be involved in it,” Maranacook Superintendent Jay Charette said. “So we said, ‘Let’s go back to our regular policy.'”

The policy update was proposed to the full school board by its Policy Committee, which is made up of three board members — Carr, of Wayne; Wendy Brotherlin, of Manchester; and Alexander Wright, of Mount Vernon. Charette represents the administration on the committee.

Carr, who is also the school board chairman, said tabling the matter was the best way to handle it.

“People were objecting to the words ‘a true American,'” he said, noting that the objections appeared to be orchestrated.

Before that full board meeting, Charette said the proposal was the result of routine policy review by the board. This particular policy had not been looked at since 2012 and the wording was not included in the policy.

“When we had first looked at it, it was with the lens that there was discussion about the importance of the flag and what it means to our country,” he said. “That’s kind of where the discussion came from.”

School boards periodically review policies, and they rely on the Maine School Management Association to provide sample policies, although they are under no obligation to adopt them.

“School boards can do whatever they want,” said Charlotte Bates, director of policy and research services for the Maine School Management Association.

But in some cases, she said, policies are designated as required.

The MSMA has no plans to revisit its policy recommendation in this instance, Bates said, because there has been no change to state law.

Charette said the Policy Committee has since met and the matter remains tabled.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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