Chaya, deeply affected by her treatment at school, said when she voices distress about the acts of racism on school property, staff view her as having emotional or behavioral problems and tell her they need to make a special plan for her education.
“I think the school needs to make a plan,” Chaya said. The students and Shamawyah would like to see, among other changes, an updated Black history curriculum — Mia said there is little to no focus on Black leaders beyond Martin Luther King Jr. — and more conversations about diversity in the classroom.
They are asking for the hiring of additional Black school liaisons — one for each school — a concrete incident reporting system and a designated person to take the complaints, and an official outline of consequences for acts of racism on school property.
Of the requests, Engel and Gnewikow say the Black history lessons have undergone significant changes in recent years, with input from local organizations and leaders, but note if the changes are “not self-evident to the students, we have work to do.”
They say the district is partnering with community groups to offer support and resources, which may offer “more benefits” than hiring additional liaisons.
In regards to a standard of repercussions for specific instances of hate or racism, Engel and Gnewikow said the district’s Code of Rights and Responsibilities is shared with district parents and local cultural groups on an annual basis, who are asked to provide input, and the response has been they prefer consequences not be “prescriptive” but rather adapted to fit the particular situation. Even responses to infractions like violating dress code are largely looked at on a case-by-case basis, with the goal of remediating or resolving problems rather than punishing students.
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