South Burlington School District Fights Suit Over Rebels Petition | Off Message

South Burlington School District Fights Suit Over Rebels Petition


Rebels banners at South Burlington High School - FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • File: Oliver Parini
  • Rebels banners at South Burlington High School
School's out, but the South Burlington Rebels saga is still in session.

The school district on Monday sought the dismissal of a lawsuit brought in June by supporters of the controversial Rebels moniker who want a public vote on the name change. In the filing, school district attorney Pietro Lynn argued that the school board had every right to make its decision, despite a successful petition drive by Rebel Alliance members who demanded the name change be decided by residents.

The "elected school board, not the electorate, has the authority to make operations and budgetary decisions and properly exercised its discretion in declining to put the Rebel name articles before the voters," reads the motion filed in Vermont Superior Court.

The school board voted unanimously to drop the name on February 1 after critics called it divisive and tainted by racist associations with the Confederacy. Supporters saw it as a harmless and unifying tradition.

That group founded an advocacy group — the Rebel Alliance — and launched the petition drive as part of their bid to retain the name.

One petition asked for a vote on the name itself, while a second called for a prohibition on spending public funds to change the name. Students, and later the school board, voted on and approved the new mascot: the Wolves.

The board announced at a May meeting it would not put the questions to a vote, which triggered outrage. Rebel Alliance leaders called the decision cowardly and argued that it violated due process.

Four Rebels supporters filed the June lawsuit: Robert A. Skiff Jr., Benjamin E. Nye, Stacey Savage and Marcy Brigham.

"South Burlington Rebels were taught to fight for what they believed was right and to never give up, and we are continuing that proud tradition," Savage, who serves as the Rebel Alliance spokeswoman, wrote in a press release shortly after filing the suit.

Savage on Monday did not immediately return a request for comment.

The district's motion argued that the lawsuit asks the school district to hold a vote about a symbol that "many consider racist." To retain such a symbol could alienate students and families, and put the district in violation of state and federal laws designed to prevent racism, the motion said.

On Monday, South Burlington High School principal Patrick Burke unveiled images of new sports jerseys, bearing the Wolves name, on Twitter.

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