Rainbow F approved by 2-0 vote

Rittenhouse calls logo an “abomination”

By Ruthann Carr, correspondent

What started with a bang ended with a whimper.

After three months of study, debate, legal consultation and community input, the Fluvanna County School Board agreed Wednesday (Jan. 9) to let the high school Alliance Club alter the school logo with rainbow colors for its own use.

It does not mean the flying “F” is changed permanently, only that the club can modify it as requested.

Three School Board members abstained and two voted to allow the change.

Chair Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) and Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) voted for the motion, as they did when the vote was called in the Dec. 19 meeting.

At that meeting, which Andrew Pullen (Columbia) did not attend, Brenda Pace (Palmyra) and Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) voted against the Alliance Club request. On Wednesday, Pace, Rittenhouse and Pullen abstained, which allowed the motion to pass.

Even though he abstained, Rittenhouse made it clear what he thought about the issue.

“This is an abomination to anybody who graduated from Fluvanna High School,” Rittenhouse said at the end of the meeting during School Board member comments. “I’m not happy with it. It does set a precedent. It is political. But it’s over with. Now it’s done. I know we’ll hear a lot of ridicule and backlash from it, but so be it.”


The Alliance Club is a school-sanctioned group supporting LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) students and their allies.

A few of the club leaders thought it would be a good idea to replace the traditional blue and gold colors of the Fluco logo – a flying F – with rainbow colors to symbolize pride and solidarity. The rainbow flag, also known as the gay pride flag, is used worldwide to show support for the LGBTQ community. Students asked their principal, Margo Bruce, for guidance.

Bruce suggested they ask the School Board for permission.

Originally, the Alliance Club wanted to use the rainbow logo to make stickers to give to any teacher volunteering to be identified as a “safe space” for LGBTQ students and their allies.

Before the first public hearing on the issue at the Nov. 7 School Board meeting, the group amended its request, taking out the part about distributing stickers to teachers. Teachers can’t engage in political speech in the classroom, and the schools’ lawyer said the rainbow F would constitute political speech.

The group said they would use the rainbow F to “encourage a safe, accepting space” in the school. They agreed not to use the logo to make money, but would instead raise money another way to buy items to put the logo on to give away.

When Superintendent Chuck Winkler received the request, he decided to bring it up to the board in the Oct. 10 closed session because it was a “possible legal matter,” he said last week.

It was then put on the Nov. 7 meeting agenda.

Five days before, however, the website Bearing Drift, which bills itself as “Virginia’s conservative voice,” ran a blog post written by Rob Schilling entitled “The culture wars come to Fluvanna.” Schilling posted a picture of the request letter from the Alliance Club. The student’s information was blurred in the photo, but the teacher sponsor’s name was not.

That article inflamed the Fluvanna community and brought out a nearly standing room only crowd to the Nov. 7 meeting. About a quarter of those who spoke were against changing the logo. Everyone, however, wanted to know how Schilling found out about the issue.

An overriding concern seemed to be how a group of students who are at higher risk of being the victims of bullying, emotional struggles and suicide became a political football by making a request to the School Board.

Another question concerned who owned the trademark and whether the School Board had the authority to grant the club’s request.

At that meeting, Johnson made a motion to allow the students to alter the logo. No one seconded the motion so it died. The board said it would study the issue, ask for legal advice and put it on the December meeting agenda.

Johnson began the Dec. 19 meeting by reading the following message from the board: “We understand that there have been some recent concerns regarding privileged information being shared inappropriately with a local radio show host. The Board has conducted an inquiry, beginning more than a month ago. Based on the findings, the Fluvanna County School Board states that no School Board member gave any confidential information to this outlet. Furthermore, no Fluvanna County School Board member has any knowledge of who shared this information with this media outlet or any public entity.”

Fewer attended the December meeting, but many were frustrated with the board’s statement.

Johnson again made a motion to approve altering the logo. It was seconded. Johnson and Stewart voted for; Pace and Rittenhouse voted against. Pullen was not at the meeting, so the motion ended in a tie.

January School Board meeting

The issue energized John Atkins, a Fluvanna graduate who supported the Alliance Club. Atkins researched case law regarding trademark issues and sent his findings to the board members prior to Wednesday’s meeting. He said he “had grave concerns about the lackluster investigation” the board did on who leaked the letter.

Before the vote, Pullen acknowledged the passion surrounding the issue. He said he was sorry he missed the December meeting, but had to work. (The meeting was postponed a week because of weather.)

“You can’t persuade us to vote a certain way by calling us names,” he said.

Pullen supported newly elected 5th District Congressman Denver Riggleman and does consulting work for him, he said. That does not inform his view on the logo vote, he said.

“I think it’s a policy issue…it’s not the School Board’s purview to vote on this,” he said. Pullen said he knows people have already altered the school logo, but “that doesn’t make it right.”

“We need to develop a policy so it is fixed and it doesn’t change when School Boards change.”

Because of that, Pullen said he would abstain from voting.

Pace said even with getting legal advice during the closed session before Wednesday’s meeting, she was still confused and needed more clarification. Because of that, she would abstain.

After the vote, community members thanked the board for passing the motion.

Amber Kidd, who attended all three meetings stating her objection to changing the logo, said she was not happy about the vote, but she accepted it.

Other business

Winkler presented a new version of next year’s school calendar. It contained nine half days. Several people spoke during public comments, asking Winkler to eliminate as many half days as possible.

Johnson noted the board was concerned about the six half days in the current calendar and wondered why next year’s had more. She, too, urged Winkler to decrease them.

Tony Stephan, education and marketing director of Sun Tribe Solar, made a presentation to the board about installing solar panels at the schools.

The company has already partnered with St. Anne’s Belfield, Arlington, and Middlesex County Public Schools.

Fluvanna County Public Schools would enter into a 25-year power purchase agreement at 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh). Right now the average cost is 11.2 cents per khw. There is no upfront cost for installation. Sun Tribe would own and maintain the equipment. Energy produced is not stored in batteries but instead is sent directly to the grid.

If Fluvanna’s solar panels collect all the energy used, there is no additional cost. If not, schools pay the balance to Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, the current supplier.

Stephan said Sun Tribe would give a grant for training teachers interested in incorporating solar energy into their curriculum.

During public comments, Bob Livengood with Budget Electrical and Mechanical said his company wanted to bring an apprenticeship program to the high school. “Point us in the right direction to implement that,” he said.

Johnson said she was sure someone would be in touch.

The board voted unanimously to allow a group from the current Fluvanna Leadership Development Program to conduct a survey of students. The Youth Opportunities Group’s project is to identify programs and activities for Fluvanna children. The community youth need assessment will be online for older students.

Johnson said she would go to the elementary school during lunch to help students there fill out a paper copy of the survey so no instructional time is lost.

Sidebar: Fluco logo not trademarked

This whole time he thought the logo was trademarked.

After the Nov. 7 School Board meeting when Superintendent Chuck Winkler first said the Fluco F was trademarked, several members of the community checked into it.

Fluvanna Review reporter Heather Michon spent hours searching the trademark database and found no record for the Fluco logo. Neither did Bryant Atkins or Kerry Murphy-Hammond.

Many who spoke about the logo during all three meetings mentioned they’ve seen the Fluco logo in many colors. At the Nov. 7 meeting, Winkler said athletes got permission to use the American flag colors on the logo to show support for veterans.

At the Dec. 19 School Board meeting, Winkler said the schools’ lawyers advised the board not to grant the Alliance Club request to change the colors of the logo because it would “weaken the trademark.”

Even when asked on Jan. 7 if the logo was trademarked, Winkler said: “Yes, the lawyers put in for the trademark about five years ago. I’m not sure exactly how long ago it was, I was here but not yet the superintendent.”

A few days before the board meeting, Murphy-Hammond sent Winkler an email requesting the file number of the trademark.

On Thursday, she got her answer when Winkler returned her email. It turns out the lawyers did not file the paperwork. But they told him the school has “ownership and proprietary rights under trademark law(s).”

Given the outcome of the logo vote and School Board member Andrew Pullen urging the Board to set a policy for future logo requests, Winkler said the lawyers assured him they would “solidify things with an actual registration moving forward.”

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