[UPDATE 1/7/13 7:25 EST: I just spoke to a friend who works in Milford School District. This friend has no connection to district administration, and spoke to me with a promise of total anonymity. This is what my friend had to say:
We were told, by [the superintendent], that the district didn’t know what the sign said (since it was in Spanish). When new signs are posted we will make sure each has the exact same wording (regardless of language). I truly believe that the admin didn’t know what the signs said. With our relatively large hispanic population, no one wants to discriminate. Milford is a responsive and responsible district….and I’m not just saying that….we are culturally sensitive and that’s why I’ve decided to stay here!
While I find the comment that the district didn’t know what the signs said to be a little disingenuous, given that the sign has stood, with an accompanying sign that says the same thing in English, at the middle school athletic fields for years, it is my belief that that statement has a lot to do with administrative butt covering and little to do with anything else.
I have been criticized by some commenters on this post because “it is largely conjecture.” Adding a bunch of new facts was not my intent. Instead, I am trying to fill in gaps in the reporting of others, who in most cases have a lot of information about the signs and little knowledge of the area, the school district, or Delaware politics.
Additionally, I apologize for the error in my original post, which left out the information that this was originally brought to light by local conservative radio host Dan Gaffney. Mr. Gaffney has a history of being hyper critical of local school systems, and his part in this incident needs to be examined.]
I’m taking the gloves off on this one, and unfortunately I’m going bare knuckled to pound some sense into some of my liberal brethren.
If you follow the liberal blogosphere at all, by now you have certainly heard of what I call the “Great Milford Delaware Racist Playground Sign” affair. If you haven’t heard of it yet, take a look at the photo below.
For anyone who doesn’t speak Spanish, the Spanish language version of the sign says something totally different than the English language version says. Where the English sign says that anyone using the playground must have adult supervision, the Spanish sign says that you have to have permission to use the playground, and anyone who uses it without permission is subject to “police action.” Wow! Intimidating to Spanish speaking people, huh?
This controversy was started by “Delaware Dem” on DelawareLiberal.net. It migrated from there to DailyKos.com, and from there to all sorts of liberal blogs and Facebook pages. Out of the coverage I have seen, Daily Kos seemed to do the best job at presenting all of the information. From everything I know about this story, there is just no substance to the charges and suggestions that this was somehow a deliberate attempt by a school district to intimidate a segment of the local population.
For those not familiar with my writing and background: I am a retired teacher. I worked for 29 years in the Cape Henlopen School District, which borders the Milford School District to the south. I am a lifelong resident of coastal Sussex County Delaware. In the interest of full disclosure I will also tell readers that I am currently on the substitute teacher list for the Milford School District, that I have several friends who work in that school district, and a cousin of my wife is a former district administrator. However, none of that colors what I have to say about this “controversy.”
Here are some facts about this situation that you may not have read elsewhere:
- The Spanish language sign in question is the same as a sign that has greeted visitors to the athletic fields at Milford Middle School for years. I have coached soccer in the Cape Henlopen School District for over 15 years, and I have seen that sign every time we go to Milford to play a game. At the middle school the Spanish version of the sign is directly underneath a sign that says the same thing in English. (see photo below)
- [CORRECTION: As some Facebook commenters have pointed out, this was originally broken by local conservative radio host Dan Gaffney. Gaffney has a long history of criticizing local school districts, and encouraging his listeners to do likewise. Why did he choose to get involved in this? Good question.] This story was broken by the writer “Delaware Dem” on DelawareLiberal.net. Most of the writers on that blog come from what is known as “upstate” Delaware. There has been a traditional divide in our state between urban, supposedly sophisticated New Castle county above the C&D Canal, and rural, “redneck” downstate Delaware below the canal. Many people who live upstate regard downstaters as hopeless hicks, regardless of our political persuasion, until proven otherwise to their satisfaction. I point this out not to cast aspersions on Delaware Dem, but to suggest that it may have been a case of jumping to conclusions for some who have weighed in. You only have to read the comment thread on Delaware Liberal to see that.
- Yes, Sussex County is the most conservative area in Delaware. We’re the only county where a majority voted against Barack Obama in the last two presidential elections, and almost all of our state legislators are Republicans in a legislature where both houses are controlled by Democrats. And yes, we have a history of racism. But the most conservative areas of the county are in the west. Milford is in the northeast section of the county, near the beach area, which tends to be more liberal, and in fact both the town of Milford and the Milford School District straddle the border between Sussex and the somewhat more liberal Kent county. To my knowledge there have not been any incidents of blatant racism in the Milford area in many years. (I actually cannot recall any racial issues out of Milford in my lifetime.)
- The sign at Lulu Ross Elementary, which is in the photograph that has been attached to most of the stories, actually faces what appears to me, judging from people and kids who I saw on the street and in their yards on a pleasant January day yesterday, to be a mostly white working/middle class neighborhood.
- There is nothing sinister about the pirate emblem visible under the sign. It’s the school mascot. They are the Milford Buccaneers.
- As soon as this issue hit the media, the district superintendent was out removing the signs.
These signs were apparently up for about a year. A valid question to ask would be “why didn’t a district employee or local resident who speaks Spanish bring them to the attention of district officials?” A good question, but also one that I have not heard asked in the discussion of the past couple of days.
I am not going to write that I know with 100% certainty that there was no nefarious purpose behind these signs, but consider: To assume that someone wanted to intimidate Hispanic residents from using the playgrounds means that someone who was responsible for the signs had to speak Spanish. How likely is it that a low IQ racist speaks Spanish?
The fact that an identical sign has been posted at the middle school for years says a great deal to me. It suggests that someone in the district thought they were covering their ass by posting a sign in Spanish in a Hispanic neighborhood. It is very likely that the person or persons involved knew that such a sign was posted already at district athletic fields, and not knowing exactly what the sign said they thought it would be appropriate for the playgrounds. District employees and others who passed the sign regularly probably paid little attention to it, which explains why it didn’t get noticed until someone happened to stop and see that it did not say the same thing in both Spanish and English. Also, the current superintendent has only been in her job since last summer, and I’m sure she had plenty of items to keep her busy other than checking all of the signage outside district schools.
Liberals should be above this kind of thing. This is the same sort of nonsense that I see on an almost daily basis from the right, and we should not be dragged down to their level. While I will give Delaware Dem/Delaware Liberal/Daily Kos credit for updating the story as mitigating information came to light, I have to observe that this would have been a non-issue had Delaware Dem simply waited until this morning and contacted Milford School District officials for comment.
I know I will take some heat for this in some circles, but isn’t something that separates liberals from conservatives the fact that we try to get the facts about a story before we comment on it, whereas the right produces knee jerk reactions to everything that pushes one of their buttons? Put your righteous indignation away–this story is a non-issue.