The Vernon Township School District Board of Education voted on May 18 to fly the Pride Flag at Vernon Township High School and the Board Office during the month of June, and plans to adopt a formal flag policy going forward.
The measure passed by an 8-1 vote with Board of Education member Ray Zimmerman voting against it. Sussex County Pride will supply the flags. According to a representative of Sussex County Pride, this will be the first time any public building in Sussex County will fly the flag.
Superintendent Karen D’Avino brough the topic up during her segment of the meeting, indicating that there were several members of the Board of Education wanting to fly the Pride flag in June in honor of the district’s LGBTQ+ students.
“We do have many students in our district who identify as LGBTQ students,” D’Avino said. “I can say our HIBs [harassment, intimidation and bullying policy] and I’ve openly talked about it; our reports are almost always about gender or orientation. It’s something that is of concern.”
Board of Education member Justin Annunziata thought it was a “tremendous” idea and said it sends a message to the students that all are welcome at Vernon Township schools.
“I think it’s particularly important that we do this when just two weeks ago we saw another Pride flag two towns over get taken down in the middle of the night and burned,” Annunziata said. “I think that this is a counterbalance to that to say, ‘that’s not who we are as a community’ and that all are welcome here in Vernon.”
No one had made a request of the district to fly the flag, unlike at the most recent Vernon Township Council meeting, where many individuals came forward asking the township to do just that.
Even though he is the “parent of 2 1/2 gay children,” board member Martin O’Donnell thought flying the flag was a bad idea, saying the Vernon Township School District is not a political organization and said it could open the district to other organizations wanting the district to fly its flag.
D’Avino said the district does fly a POW/MIA flag.
“I have very strong feelings about that, and I have an uncle who was a prisoner of war,” she said. “I’m so pleased to see it there, but for some people that’s an emotional response.”
O’Donnell said he wanted to protect the district from litigation if they refuse to fly a certain organization’s flag.
The district has no policy on the books regarding flying any flags in the district, but the POW/MIA flag set a precedent that it allows other flags.
The Board of Education plans to adopt a policy regarding flying flags on its property but will fly the Pride flag based on the existing precedent.
“We can continue to follow the precedent until the policy is in place,” Annunziata said.