Pelham Holds Student Forums to Address Recent Controversies

Students Gather to Discuss the Thin Blue Line Flag Ban

Ellie O’Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief, Junior

On November 23, PMHS hosted a student-run forum to address the controversy that made nationwide news regarding the recent Thin Blue Line flag controversy at the high school. Dr. Champ recently made a decision to ban the symbol from Pelham Schools, citing its recent use by members of alt-right groups and other such uses that have given it a negative connotation to some. This sparked outrage among supporters of the police force and members of the Pelham Police Department. Natalie McCabe Zwerger along with Cathlene Antoine, advisors from the NYU Center for Equity and Racial Justice organized what was intended to be a student-only forum to discuss the aforementioned events, but was attended by Principal Berkowitz and Assistant Principal Antonelli, as well. The group from NYU has collaborated with Pelham schools in the past, performing equity audits and throwing around the possibility of  student town halls.

The forum was intended to give students a platform to voice their concerns with the aforementioned controversy. Oddly, the flag was never actually mentioned by name. The subject itself seemed to be taboo and was only ever referred to as some variation of “this issue” or “the problem,” etc.

Attendees were reluctant, at first, to respond when the NYU advisors would ask a question, and there was definitely some noticeable hesitance in speaking an opinion. (Full disclosure: this may have to do with the presence of a press reporter. I did identify myself, and announced that no names or direct quotes would be used without permission.) Some may also have been hesitant to speak out with school administrators present. However, being school leaders, the event was their responsibility and it was important for them to be there. Nevertheless,  such apprehension is understandable given their position over students and faculty.

Eventually, students discussed their opinions on matters such as the proportion to which the ordeal was blown up, many saying that it moved from what students were uncomfortable with to more of a social media discussion among adults. Students pointed to the fact that the comment section of the Pelham Examiner’s article was shut down after adults who didn’t have any relation to the school district began to argue about their own beliefs and ideologies.

Some expressed that they didn’t feel comfortable talking about an issue like this in the classroom, even though it would allow for peer discussion. Many cited their fear of being viewed in a different light by their associates if they, for example, held a contrary opinion. Participants stated that they felt more comfortable talking politics with their family or close friends.

Others pointed out that though they had places in school that they felt safe discussing such things, there was a certain disconnect between the school and the town, and that the acceptance that many feel inside the building does not translate to citizens living in the same area. Overall, students agreed that people with differing opinions could work together just fine, but there came a point where someone’s opinion was simply stepping on the toes of their existence. 

In the end, the student forum was an interesting hour of exchanging different ideas and opinions, being respectful of what others have to say, and often agreeing with opposing viewpoints. More forums are being held for the future, but messages being sent to the student body stress that only students are asked to attend for upcoming forums.