A decision by a public school district to not allow the display of a tribute to fallen soldiers has sparked controversy in Omaha.
The Millard School District claims its lawyers have warned against allowing “Remembering Our Fallen” tribute to be display there, because it would set a precedent, forcing the school to allow the display of opposing viewpoints.
Bill Williams and his wife, Evonne, began the traveling tribute to military members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We have these exhibits traveling in nine states and no one has ever used this excuse about lawyers said they can’t do it,” Williams tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.
Millard Public Schools Communications Coordinator Rebecca Kleeman has sent a letter to those objecting to the decision, outlining the reasons for the district’s response.
In the letter, Kleeman write, “…legal counsel has advised that a display, even a highly positive and reflective one with all the best intentions, could open Millard to the issue of a limited public forum. This means that when a group is allowed to set up a display within a school, any group with an opposing view also has the right to set up a display. Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical situation as we have been faced with groups in the past who espouse strongly disrespectful messages.”
Kleeman did suggest that if the “Remembering Our Fallen” tribute was set up near the schools teachers might be able to incorporate it in their curriculum and that the district would be open to arranging field trips to visit the display.
Williams says the decision surprised him.
“It’s an unfortunate decision on their part. We’d never it heard it before. We’re not used to this rejection.”
Williams says he cannot understand the reasoning behind Millard’s decision.
“We’ve never had anybody use that excuse before, so we were taken aback by it,” according to Williams. “The veteran community is quite upset about this and one irritates them, I suspect, at their own peril. It’s unfortunate.”
The tribute has been traveling throughout Nebraska, displayed at courthouses, libraries, hospitals and at least ten schools.
Below is the full text of the response letter written by Kleeman:
Thank you for writing. It is clear you and the others who have contacted us today have strong feelings on this matter. I have read each message, and appreciate the time and thought that has gone into them.
This has been a sad and frustrating situation for Millard, particularly because the District does so much as part of its daily curriculum to recognize and honor all veterans. Hundreds of our students are currently scheduled to visit the Durham Museum for the exhibit The American Soldier. Each year students throughout our schools sent letters and care packages to active duty service men and women. On Veteran’s Day ceremonies and observances will be held throughout our buildings. Some schools honor staff members who are also veterans with a boutonniere. Others highlight staff members who have served with a video. All of these activities are part of our instruction, wrapped in context and perspective.
Unfortunately the offer for Mr. William’s exhibit came to Millard with a pressing need for a response, with many questions and little time for answers. Additionally the initial email referred to a $500 fee for each school. The decision to host the traveling exhibit was given to the high school principals who were told that an answer was needed before the exhibit was booked elsewhere. Each principal struggled with practical matters of logistics and scheduling, especially with the window of scheduling falling at the same time as state assessments and with the request to open the buildings and accommodate the public for a week. While unnamed sponsors were available for some, other schools would apparently need to secure the fee. Because of this, and because of the request for a quick reply, each principal politely declined.
Upon further discussion at the District level, legal counsel has advised that a display, even a highly positive and reflective one with all the best intentions, could open Millard to the issue of a limited public forum. This means that when a group is allowed to set up a display within a school, any group with an opposing view also has the right to set up a display. Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical situation as we have been faced with groups in the past who espouse strongly disrespectful messages.
This stated, if the exhibit is available at a location near our schools and our teachers can make it a part of their curriculum, then we would certainly be open to arranging field trips to visit the display. Educational visits are a common and welcome part of the Millard curriculum.
I respect your passion for our veterans and for their sacrifices. It is a message that we deliver to the students in Millard each day, and we will continue to do so. Thank you for taking the time to read this message.
Millard Public Schools
Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this story.