United Student Leaders, a student activist group from South Whidbey, removed a controversial Facebook post about school board member Damian Greene from their page.
The group, known as USL, indicated that the decision to remove the comment was not related to Greene’s disclosure that he was consulting an attorney about it.
The South Whidbey Record story on the controversy was subsequently covered by Newsweek, an Egyptian news blog and Opera News, the largest news app in the world.
USL’s original post followed a protest against the South Whidbey School District’s Black Lives Matter banner and other topics, organized by Greene’s wife Maureen. Days after the protest, the banner was stolen from school grounds.
The USL post encouraged community members to attend the June 23 board meeting and ask questions such as “What was Maureen and/or Damian’s role in the stealing and vandalizing of the banners?”
In that school board meeting, Greene denounced the post as “libel, slander, with the intent to defame our characters,” and revealed he was speaking with an attorney about it.
Later, in a statement to the The Record, Greene said, “Certainly, nobody desires to enter into litigation. Hopefully it is not needed to fully learn the lesson here. This issue could have been resolved and still can, by USL simply removing the post.”
In a separate email to the The Record, and again in a July 28 school board meeting, Greene said he did not mean either statement as a threat of litigation against the students.
“At no time did I say I was going to file a lawsuit against the United Student Leaders,” he wrote in the email to The Record.
“There are many reasons to visit with an attorney, especially in this disturbing situation with a non-recognized school district community group consisting of ‘some’ South Whidbey students,” the email went on.
In a new Facebook post, USL said their decision to remove the post was motivated by a desire to return to their original purpose of advocating for climate justice and providing a safe space for student activists.
“We stand by the questions we raised, however, we regret that the Greenes interpreted our post as an accusation. Because of the misinterpretation we realize that our intent could have been more clear,” the post said. “We also want to clarify that neither Damian nor Maureen have contacted USL to discuss concerns and request for the removal of the post.”
The Black Lives Matter banner continued to be a subject of passionate debate at the July 28 board meeting, when public commenters spent nearly an hour and a half expressing their support for, or displeasure with, the banner and other social justice education measures that were the subjects of the June 11 protest.
Maureen Greene and others repeated their long-held assertions that the banner violates the standard of political neutrality to which public schools must adhere because of the Black Lives Matter political action committee created in October 2020.
“If you continue to display the banner, then members of the public are afforded equal opportunity for expression of opposing views,” Maureen Greene said.
There isn’t a single group that represents Black Lives Matter, but it’s a decentralized grassroots movement represented by many different organizations and individuals that advocate against police violence toward Black people.
Board members also weighed in during the part of the meeting dedicated to board comments and reports. Board chair Brook Willeford maintained that the banner’s purpose is not to endorse any political ideology, but to affirm to students of color that they are safe and valued at South Whidbey High School.
“What is the opposing view to Black Lives Matter? Is it ‘all lives matter’? No,” he said. “The only opposing view to the statement ‘Black lives matter’ is that Black lives don’t matter, and that is not a statement I will ever vote for or speak out in favor of on school property.”
Board member Marnie Jackson wondered whether a banner with a similar phrase might retain the inclusive sentiment while assuaging the concerns of community members who view the original terminology as political.
“I think it would be a slap in the face and a threat to the safety of our students to take down the banner that says ‘Black Lives Matter,’ unless they were to replace it with a like statement, like perhaps a statement that says, ‘All Black lives truly matter,’” she said.