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Activists press board on values

June 28, 2005

by Christopher Nagy; Daily Press & Argus

A group of community activists can’t yet define the “traditional family values” they endorse, although supporting the national motto is apparently one of them as the flap over the diversity flag at Howell High School continues.

The Howell Public Schools Board of Education begged off from accepting a framed copy of the phrase “In God We Trust” at its meeting Monday night. A grass-roots group calling itself the Livingston Organization for Values in Education — or LOVE — offered the gift to the school board for display in the district’s administrative offices. The group also said it was willing to provide the district with enough copies of the motto to display in every classroom before the board put the brakes on the offer.

School board President Mary Jo Dymond said the district didn’t want to put itself in a potentially litigious situation.

“Until all of this is settled in our Supreme Court, we feel it would be inappropriate to accept anything at this time”‘ Dymond said.

LOVE member Jim Pratt, who made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Howell school board in May, interpreted Dymond’s comments as relating to Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on the display of the Ten Commandments on government land and inside government buildings.

Pratt attended Monday’s board meeting with fellow LOVE member and Howell resident Tom Mallon, who cited Michigan’s Public Act 184 of 2001, which encourages state agencies and local units of government to place the national motto of “In God We Trust” on public buildings and land.

Mallon said LOVE includes parents, students and community members united for “traditional family values,” but added that those values will be defined by the community. Because the group is so new, holding only three organizational meetings so far, what those values are have not yet taken shape, he said.

Even so, one of the centerpieces of LOVE appears to be the still-festering issue of the diversity flag in the main stairwell at Howell High School. The school’s Diversity Club dedicated the flag this school year amid a swirling controversy over whether or not the multi-colored rainbow flag was representative of diversity in all forms or whether it was simply a symbol of gay pride.

“We’re in favor of diversity, but we’re opposed to the display of the gay-pride flag,” Mallon said.

Mallon added that what the flag means is also something that the community needs to define, but noted that its presence is “a point of dissension in the community.”

He said the suspension of two students who wrote an anti-gay message on the rock in the courtyard of the high school, as well as the suspension of the four students who painted the word “love” over the anti-gay message, all comes back to the issue of the school’s diversity flag.

As further evidence of how the flag is dividing the community, Pratt also pointed to a letter that was published in the Daily Press & Argus from a Howell student who said she was afraid to speak out against the placement of the flag for fear of being marginalized.

“We just don’t want people to be afraid to go to school,” Pratt said. “We don’t want to see people expelled.”

“All we want to do is to create a unified voice to create policies in the school district that reflect traditional family values,” Mallon said.

Despite the action of the Howell school board Monday that put the issue in a holding pattern, Mallon added that the group is intending to continue its talks with Superintendent Charles Breiner and the school board.

“I’m sure Mr. Breiner will be hearing more about us in the future,” Pratt said.


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