Courts & Corrections

School district wants suit over Rebels name change thrown out

South Burlington High School
The football field and track at South Burlington High School. Photo courtesy of South Burlington School District

Four South Burlington residents have sued the city school district over its decision to abandon the high school’s Rebels nickname.

The plaintiffs want the name change delayed until the court decides if a community vote on the mascot should take place.

The board’s lawyer has asked for the suit to be dismissed, arguing that board members, not residents, have the authority to make such decisions.

Plaintiffs Stacey Savage, Robert A. Skiff Jr., Benjamin Nye and Marcy Brigham sued in Chittenden Superior Court.

Reached Tuesday afternoon, Skiff told VTDigger that a member of the group Rebel Alliance sought volunteers as plaintiffs in the case. He said he couldn’t recall who initiated the suit or recruited volunteers but that he joined due to his fundamental opposition to the board’s decision.

“I got involved in the lawsuit because the district has disregarded a lawful petition,” said Skiff, a district parent and longtime South Burlington resident. “The school board doesn’t want to put the issue to a vote, disregarding democracy, which will further racial divides in the community.”

Brigham had created the online petition shortly after the board decided unanimously Feb. 1 to change the school nickname.

Brigham’s petition garnered more than 800 signatures. A petition to put an item on the ballot requires signatures from 5 percent of registered voters in the community — or about 700 in South Burlington.

South Burlington High School. Wikimedia Commons photo
Organizers missed the deadline to put an item on the Town Meeting Day ballot but tried to trigger a special election. No citywide vote occurred.

Pietro Lynn, the school district’s attorney, argued the board’s decision was lawful, regardless of the petition.

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,” he wrote in a motion to dismiss the suit.

Lynn said he hopes the court will settle the case quickly and cost-effectively. He said a hearing had been scheduled for Friday, but he requested an extension because his clients were notified just two days before. A new date has not been set.

“We are confident that the court will grant our motion to dismiss,” Lynn said. “The statutes in Vermont are very clear regarding school boards and the electorate.”

Savage said the school board “ostracized” the majority of the community by ignoring the petition and not holding a vote. She said the decision to sue was made by core members of the Rebel Alliance group and that the concept came up in early conversations.

“It became a definitive game plan after they refused to honor the community and put the issue to a vote,” Savage said.

Nye did not respond to messages seeking comment. Brigham referred questions to lawyer Paul Gillies, who did not respond to a call Tuesday afternoon.

The Rebel Alliance, a Facebook-organized opposition group, has raised money for legal costs through online contributions and T-shirt sales. A GoFundMe page listed just over $5,000 in donations as of Tuesday. The organization will continue to raise money, according to Savage.

“It shows that a lot of people are behind this. It shows grass-roots support,” Skiff said of the fundraising.

South Burlington
A sign in South Burlington links the Rebels nickname to opposition to the school budget this spring. File photo by Gail Callahan/VTDigger
The alliance formed after the board voted unanimously to drop the Rebels nickname. The board had voted to keep the name 15 months earlier but reversed the decision after pressure from students and community members.

The Rebel Alliance has already used its influence in local issues.

Alliance members twice campaigned to defeat the school budget in votes in March and April, until a proposal successfully passed in June. The group registered as a political action committee in March.

Savage said the alliance will continue to play an active role in the community, regardless of the outcome of the suit. She said the group is recruiting and preparing candidates for upcoming elections, and monitoring city and school district issues.

“We feel it’s time for a big change in this city, and we are simply acting on the many voices we hear from,” Savage said.

Some residents had pushed to drop the Rebels name because of its association with the Confederacy, and thus slavery. Opponents of the name change said the moniker relates to the community’s decision to separate from Burlington and create a new high school. They also cited the cost of making a change.

A committee of community members developed a list of potential replacement mascots, and student polling recommended Wolves as the finalist. The school board adopted that name.

Principal Patrick Burke posted pictures on Twitter of new Wolves uniforms Monday as replacement apparel began to arrive.

The lawsuit mentions a $170,580 taxpayer cost for switching mascots. Changes include the gym floor, scoreboards, uniforms and signs on school grounds. During a February board meeting, Superintendent David Young indicated the cost as $96,965 after the subtraction of already scheduled maintenance costs.

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Alexandre Silberman

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  • Lester French

    Support the Liberal mind set. Don’t say anything that someone could find offensive. Such thin skin. Rebel has more than one connotation. Maybe the Board should change the mascot to Mice, afraid to make a stand.

    • Victor Stagnetti

      Sure, Rebel has more than one connotation. I’m sure the fact that confederate flags show up in old yearbooks is just a coincidence then?

      • Paul Richards

        Confederate flags have nothing to do with it. Once again the liberals in charge have taken a symbol out of contest and turned it into a race issue. Just because the liberals say the confederate flag is synonymous with racism does not mean it is, it’s not. The same holds true for the name Rebel.

  • Nate Wendt

    Assessment: I don’t understand why these four adults are involved or rather their connection. Do they themselves have students there? I do understand the concern over extra monies being needed to make the change. I do not understand the rationale over racial divide though. One of the students who pushed for the name change not only said his part on the matter, but after he was interrogated on social media regarding it, explained himself and the information behind it. If anything, the goal was to decrease the divide that was already present. On a final note, however, this should be a vote handled by the community and students attending there. A school reflects its town, and the town should have input into its schools name and presentation.

  • Neil Johnson

    Good for the people of South Burlington. The examples of public input being ignored by elected officials in this state would fill an encyclopedia every year. The officials have an agenda in so many instances where they believe they have moral or intellectual authority of people and they don’t, it’s really just a high opinion of their own thoughts and often not a thoroughly fleshed out opinion.

    The public often has good ideas and concerns this is a classic example. It is a very, very narrow definition of the word rebel. This type of thing is being instituted across our nation to divide, not bring together.

    Rebels…Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jesus Christ, our Founding Fathers…..seriously, these kids aren’t being educated on a simple term let alone about ideas, critical thinking and love. It’s great to see many standing up for education and trying to put an end to indoctrination. God gave us brain to use, not to be washed by indoctrination.

  • Homer sulham

    see nothing about race here.

    Definition of rebel
    1
    a : opposing or taking arms against a government or ruler
    b : of or relating to rebels the rebel camp
    2
    : disobedient, rebellious

  • Cheryl Ganley

    Yes Rama. There were 2 petitions verified by the City Clerk, Donna Kinville prior to it being presented to the School Board.

  • Paul Richards

    The rebels that forced the name change need to understand that they have freedom OF speech not freedom FROM speech. Good luck with the fight! I hope this liberal practice of dividing everyone can be shut down here and across this nation before our country is totally gone.

  • Edward Letourneau

    The people who want this change aren’t very knowledgeable about what happened in the 1860s. What were the Georgia counties that formed union regiments rebels against? Were the people in Tennessee that wanted to secede from Tennessee rebels? Were the farmers in the mountains of North Carolina who refused to serve in the southern armies rebels or not? — Has south Burlington has been over run by no nothings.

  • I’ve got a well-preserved secret for you: in Rutland, old yearbooks have Red Raiders in them. But I won’t say anymore. It’s only a matter of time before the revionist wing of The Liberal Party reads a history book.

  • Jamie Carter

    ” Whatever you meant by it back in the day, why are you so intent on preserving it now if it causes other people pain?”

    Absolutely every word causes someone pain. Should we just do away with mascots all together? That would probably be the only way to avoid making someone feel bad.

  • Neil Johnson

    This is where all statements can be true, yours, mine, the change people and the keep it the same name people.

    Vermont was anti-slavery for a long time. People have been pushing anti slavery heavily since 1730 with the Methodist movement a huge section of the Vermont population in years past, was a critical part. That’s before we became a nation.

    As a nation we supported Jim Crow laws from 1865 to 1964. It can also be that it was our nation has changed.
    USA no longer stands for slavery. We stand for freedom.

    We can only deal with today.

    I’d argue in 1966 it didn’t stand for slavery nor racism. It certainly doesn’t stand for the confederacy, slavery nor racism for the last 40+ (?) years, probably posted in every year book and every game since to support this claim. But you want to go back to 1966 and tell us what they were thinking in 1966 on top of that!

    Just like the United States of America no longer stands for slavery or racism, but freedom. We don’t need a name change for our nation or South Burlington’s mascot.

  • Paul Richards

    Here is something to read; https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/06/24/i-am-a-black-south-carolinian-heres-why-i-support-the-confederate-flag/?utm_term=.85bbc85f4cc7
    Under your logic the Democrat party should be disbanded because they were the party of slavery and the KKK.

  • Gerry Silverstein

    I believe it was.