Group won't let motto, rainbow flag issues die

Howell school board again rejects LOVE’s requests

by Stephenie Koehn, News Staff Reporter

It appears that a local group calling itself the Livingston Organization for Values in Education is unwilling to accept “no” for an answer to its offer to provide copies of the motto “In God We Trust” to be hung in Howell Public Schools classrooms.

Although representatives of LOVE have been told on several occasions that the district’s Board of Education is not interested in its offer and also that it has no intention of ordering the high school Diversity Club to remove a rainbow-colored flag to which they object, LOVE members continue to argue the subject with school officials.

Reiterating its June decision to decline the offer because the issue of the separation of church and state is still being vigorously debated in court, the school board indicated most recently at its Sept. 26 meeting that its earlier decision still stands.

It also declined to accept, during the same meeting, the gift of a “Christian flag” by student Wesley Stamper, who appeared to be a member of LOVE.

Now, LOVE member Tom Mallon, a Howell resident, has e-mailed a letter sharply critical of the decision to Superintendent Chuck Breiner and board members. Mallon – who represented the group when it first attempted to present the board with a framed copy of the motto for installation at the high school – claims in his Sept. 28 letter that the district “has shown a proclivity to disregard the traditional values” for which his group stands and accuses the district of stifling debate.

Breiner disputes the criticism and says the group has an agenda beyond the installation of the motto in classrooms. “Ever since the Diversity Club at Howell High School hung the (rainbow-colored) diversity flag, there have been people who have been critical of the flag and insisted on misinterpreting the meaning and substance of the flag,” Breiner said in response.

“They believe the flag was hung to promote gay and lesbian lifestyles.

“But the flag … represents inclusion, tolerance and acceptance for all, not just one view of the world. It says that when students come to Howell Public Schools, they can be guaranteed of a safe, accepting and tolerant environment. That’s a far cry from saying we promote, endorse or teach an unhealthy lifestyle.”

Board President Mary Jo Dymond agreed with Breiner, adding that she believes the group is hoping to pressure the district to both remove the flag and to change its diversity resolution, adopted nearly two years ago.

Dymond also noted that it was not the board’s decision to hang the flag. “It was the action of the club, with the permission of the high school administration,” she said.

Although Mallon has said his group’s purpose is to provide copies of what it calls the “national motto,” he also has criticized the board’s support and defense of what he calls the “gay pride” flag.

The flag is, Mallon said in last week’s letter, “currently being used as the Diversity Club’s symbol regardless of the plethora of ‘significant debate’ and division it has generated not only in the school but in the community as a whole.”

He asked the board and Breiner if the “role of an educator is not to stimulate debate and or critical thought on issues that are vital to the education of our children.”

“We’re certainly not afraid of debate,” Breiner said. “But we’re not looking for a continual debate over whether the sign – or the flag – should or should not be hung. They feel threatened because they would like to talk about excluding certain groups of people.”

Board members are tiring of the imbroglio. “This is a nearly two-year-old issue,” Dymond said. “We’ve moved on from that, as you need to, to meet the next challenges that come before the school board.”


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