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Putnam Valley superintendent responds to censorship concerns

For about 20 years, seniors have been painting their parking spots, but this year, one student was denied a thin blue line design, which has some torn about what's OK to paint.

Veronica Jean Seltzer

Sep 15, 2023, 2:25 AM

Updated 278 days ago

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Some parents are speaking out about student parking spots in Putnam County, saying Putnam Valley is unfairly censoring students.
For about 20 years, seniors have been painting their parking spots, but this year, one student was denied a thin blue line design, which has some torn about what's OK to paint.
"It's unfair," one parent said.
"I think it's a hard situation," another concluded.
Is it unfair or a way to avoid controversy?
"Pay your own spot, have your own spot. You should be able to have what you want," a student spoke out.
Some Putnam Valley parents say the student should have​ been allowed to paint a thin blue line flag.
"You have excluded his dream," one woman told the school board.
Some parents may have issues, but just two showed up to share them with the board.
"Police are not political," a speaker addressed to Superintendent Jeremy Luft, PhD.
"I could not be more proud of what we do to recognize members of law enforcement," Luft replied.
He says it's really about what's appropriate to paint on taxpayer property.
"Our goal for the last couple years has been to remove the controversy to get back to the roots of what was allowing students to celebrate their time in high school," he said explaining how the district goes about approving parking spot images.
Just three years ago, News 12 reported someone painted anti-police messages on one of the school spots.
Now, Luft says he hopes the tradition can stay, but it's becoming harder to manage.
"Educators can't spend hour on hour arguing parking lot designs with adults," he told the people gathered at the board meeting.
The superintendent says the student and parent were open to feedback and are willing to change the design.
Below is the full statement by the superintendent.
Dear Putnam Valley Community:
I am aware there is some discussion in the community regarding the approval or disapproval of student parking space designs, specifically as it relates to the painting of a "Thin Blue Line Flag." For the benefit of the larger community, I would like to clarify that asking a student to avoid the symbol is NOT an indication that this district is anything other than fully supportive of our first responders. Personally, I have always viewed the thin blue line as being nothing more than supportive of law enforcement. However, in our roles, as educational leaders, we must recognize that our own personal perspectives are not shared by everyone.
Putnam Valley is far from the first community to participate in this discussion. In fact, several school districts in our area have already experienced significant division within their school community, contentious board meetings, hateful comments on social media, and in some cases, national media attention. Our intent was only to avoid this for our community.
Regardless of anyone’s personal feelings, it is evident that the thin blue line flag carries multiple meanings for different people.
I would encourage everyone in our community to take some time to consider that actions speak louder than words. In this case, the actions of the school district speak louder than the insinuations made on Facebook. I am extremely proud of all Putnam Valley does to recognize the law enforcement members who live and/or work in our community. Our annual first responder appreciation events at each building provide all community members serving in these vital roles with an opportunity to be acknowledged and celebrated. The district supports students who wish to attend the law enforcement career and technical education programs at PNW BOCES. We employ three active or retired law enforcement members in our schools, and we work with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department to recruit students into their Youth Cadet Program. Putnam Valley is and has always been a school community that supports law enforcement. I encourage you to ask any member of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department who has worked in or has visited our schools about their experience in Putnam Valley.
The painting of parking spaces at Putnam Valley High School is certainly a time-honored tradition; one that has unfortunately become increasingly difficult to manage in recent years. After nearly 20 years of student parking space designs going largely unnoticed, it now seems that every year someone takes offense to something painted on public property. While I strongly support a student's right to free speech, painting a public parking space is certainly a privilege, one that requires careful thought and consideration. Coming into this school year, it was the hope of our administration that a strict adherence to “nothing that may be deemed controversial” during the design approval process would allow us to get through a school year without parking lot controversy. Based on conversations I had this week with individuals from Putnam Valley and beyond, we were again unsuccessful.
To their credit, students have been receptive to the feedback they are provided and willing to change their designs. Something that was intended to be a celebration of a student's years at Putnam Valley High School has unfortunately become a focal point for some adults. The approval, revision, and monitoring process related to this privilege is becoming unmanageable with countless hours spent answering phone calls, emails, and holding meetings; taking valuable time away from educators who could better spend their time focused on classroom instruction, student mental health, and the overall student experience in Putnam Valley.
Please keep in mind, that we are not discussing personal property, we are not talking about a private parking space, and we are not talking about individual feelings, beliefs, or convictions. This conversation focuses on only a few matters: How do we avoid allowing something that may become controversial to be painted in a parking space that belongs to every taxpayer in our community? How do we, as a school community, find a way to navigate this process in a way that does not end in a lawsuit or the unfortunate possibility that this privilege may be taken away from our students? How do we support law enforcement officers in a way that offends no one in our community?
I would encourage everyone in our community who works as a first responder or supports first responders to take the opportunity to be recognized or show your appreciation during one of the upcoming events scheduled to recognize National First Responders Day (October 28, 2023). The following activities are scheduled to take place. If you would like to participate in any of these events, please reach out to a building administrator, a school resource officer, or our Public Relations Assistant, Jeannie Denike (jdenike@pvcsd.org) for more information.


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