December 22-28, 2021: Arlington District Silences Discussions of Racism
On PAR member Eva Woods’ letter to the editor of the Southern Dutchess News. Read below:
November 9th, 2021: In connection with the BoE’s stated interest in “safety”, On PAR member Kristin Dionne informed the board about racist and antisemitic violence her children have observed at Union Vale Middle School.
I am here to talk about the health and safety of our children in the Arlington School District and the much needed education, training and support systems necessary to support ALL of our children. Although we have many teachers, counselors and administrators who care about the needs of our students, many of our students of color, among others, are simply not getting the support they need to feel safe and supported within our schools.
Children who do not feel safe and supported are not able to learn – there is no “getting back to basics”. Educators and professionals know that the most important factors in the ability to learn include both the physiological needs (food, sleep, etc.) and the social/emotional safety of the child – Both must be present for children to be able to effectively participate in learning and benefit from the learning process.
One instance to illustrate my point was relayed by my daughter last spring during her 6th grade year at Union Vale Middle School. Students were playing kickball as part of their PE class, her teacher was at a distance talking with a colleague, but was able to see the students.
A few 8th grade boys come over to the game and as students came up to kick, they began taunting them. As an African American child came up to kick, they yelled racist slurs, as a student they perceived as gay came up to kick they yelled homophobic insults, as a child they perceived as Jewish came up to kick they started chanting “Heil Hitler”. These 6th graders had to listen as older boys taunted them for just being who they are. My daughter of Jewish descent, whose grandmother lost her extended family in the Holocaust, had to listen as older boys found it funny to reference the deaths of millions of innocent people.
The children did tell the teacher after the game and identified the boys. But that was it. That was all they knew. No one ever circled back to them. They had to go on to their next classes, after being taunted and humiliated, to try to learn math or social studies as the thoughts of what had just happed, played over in their heads.
These are the real, lived experiences of our children, these are the real, lived and repeated experiences of our children of color….our neighbors, our friends, our community. We cannot address them effectively without understanding our history, without helping all of our children to understand how their words and actions have consequences, without training and educating our staff on how to effectively work with students in a thoughtful and restorative manner that provides a safe, constructive environment to learn for everyone.
October 26th, 2021:On PAR member Taneisha Means presented action items to the BoE that, if implemented, would make the ACSD holiday calendar more equitable and inclusive of diverse religious holidays.
Our district calendar reflects what the district prioritizes and recognizes. Our review of the current and recent ACSD calendars reveals that many Christian and Jewish religious holidays are recognized, while the calendar completely overlooks the holidays of other major religious groups, and misses important holidays celebrated by racial and ethnic minorities. When administrators and staff at ACSD were asked by members of our group how the district determines which holidays to observe, we were told that they based it on the demographics of the teachers and students. In other words, we were told that holidays are built into the calendar based on the population of our district. We applaud this responsiveness and that ACSD is trying to meet the needs of those working and learning in the district, but we think an assessment needs to be done. Our district has diversified in recent years, especially where the student body is concerned. The story we heard from the Muslim family referenced above raises questions about whether our current district calendar truly reflects this increased diversity.
Here are some action items that we think should be taken into consideration and enacted by the district as it relates to this topic.
- Audit our district calendar using an equity and inclusion lens. We should consider what days we celebrate and what days are missing and consider what we call the days we celebrate and whether that is appropriate.
- Collection and release of demographic data in the district. We also ask that this data be made publicly available on the district website.
- Collection and release of data about absences in the district. Are there certain days during the year that numerous students are missing, and are these absences across the district patternistic and predictable? (i.e., a large number of students are absent on a certain day across the district). If so, these days should be taken into account when updating the calendar if they are related to a holiday.
- Survey families and teachers to better understand what holidays they are celebrating and observing.
- Create a central location in the district for reporting absences. Currently, families report absences to a host of people in the district — teachers, nurses, secretaries, and even principals, and do so in a variety of ways — emails, phone calls, in person, etc.
- Reporting absences should be standardized across the district. Families should know exactly where to go to report an absence and teachers, staff, and administrators should have a central location to go to to see who is absent and why.
What are racial equity detours?
Racial equity detours are the detours that white people follow to protect their privilege and avoid the messy work of racial justice
- Detours create an illusion of progress toward equity while cementing or even exacerbating inequity
- Detours can be initiatives and strategies that pose little threat to structural racism yet they can consume extensive resources, including those marked for racial equity
- Detours relieve us of the responsibility to name and illuminate the ways that racism operates in our workplaces, schools, institutions and communities
Pacing for privilege happens when the pace of change for an equity approach coddles the comfort and hesitancy of people with the least racial equity investment or interest. It punishes and ignores the people who most need and desire change (students, families, educators or any individuals or groups experiencing racism).
Examples of pacing to privilege:
- A cultural competence approach that talks about cultural differences without naming or confront racism
- An administrative response that emphasizes the importance of staff buy-in, or “meeting people where they are at,” before implementing equity or taking a stance on an issue
Flipping the narrative:
- If those who raise concerns about equity in an institution face greater hostility,
- if they are labeled as militant or angry for telling the racial equity truth,
- if they are silenced or made to feel less central to this institution,
Then, we should see these actions as a failure of equity leadership and the signs of a “sick” institution.
Start where we need to be: equity is neither optional nor negotiable. We should be able to say: “This is who we are as a school and these are the values to which we will be held accountable.”
Our best resources are equity minded individuals. When we make them the center of our institutions we are primed for equity progress.
October 12th, 2021: On PAR member Eva Woods called on the Arlington Board of Education meeting about how district families can admire some aspects of the district’s work on wellness and belonging while still recognizing its failure to promote racial justice.
My name is Eva Woods Peiró and I occupy Lenape, Munsee-Stockbridge land.
When a dominant public narrative tells you that everything is great, but you witness another reality, which shows you that students and adults of color in this district are experiencing racism on a daily basis, you experience what is called, “cognitive dissonance.”
Saying that there’s no such thing as racism, or racist history (as people are doing); saying that there’s no need for equity work, only wellness well-being and belonging (as people are doing) produces cognitive dissonance.
Please note, I’m not at all criticizing wellness and belonging – on the contrary, they are essential for our children and community members to thrive. But reality can be complex.
For example, I can be grateful for the resources, the educational opportunities, the sports and the music at Arlington, and be okay with saying, that students are harmed everyday by racism and that doing nothing about it makes us complicit in sustaining that racism. I can hold both, that there are great teachers, students and administrators at Arlington, and that teachers, students and administrators need to keep learning racial literacy skills, and understanding our history and how we got here more critically.
We can hold and acknowledge both good and the bad, and it doesn’t make us weak, rather it makes us strong, wise, and it makes for effective and enlightened leadership. I believe that this Board and superintendent want to embody these positive values, and that they would be against any mechanisms that censor or shut down the discussion of racism or equity work, and that they would defend the need to hold the good and the bad.
Because I believe that the Board is capable of this kind of leadership and thinking, I thus would like to ask the Board to allow for public conversations in the district to flourish, whether through email, correspondence or newsletters, which allow for teachers and administrators to continue to be involved in and talking about the work that they began several years ago on issues of equity. People need to be able to discuss these issues openly and not be censored because this work is not tagged as “wellness and belonging.”
Could the Board of Education allow administrators, such as the superintendent and school principals, to forward email announcements to their teachers about opportunities for racial literacy development, for example? There are many opportunities for teachers and admin to take advantage of professional development workshops and classes that help teachers learn how to talk about race with their students in a way that helps our children and prepares them for the reality of a diverse world.
Finally, I was wondering how I might get an answer to these questions… And can you please read an indigenous land acknowledgement at the beginning of your meetings?
To The Smith Family,
Though scripture says, “Let not your heart be troubled”, in this moment we of OnPar (ArlingtON Partners Against Racism) know that your heart is not only troubled, it is broken. And we–who are parents and caregivers in the District—share with you some of your hurt and sorrow, even as we know we cannot fully comprehend your pain. Neither can we express deeply enough how sorry we feel for your loss of your son. As parents, we work so hard to “raise them right”, to give them love and guidance and protection and tools to protect themselves when we aren’t with them. We never would have thought that they would need any tools or protection to attend an innocuous football game in a high school in mid-suburbia. We would never think that during this time of pandemic when our kids have been cooped up for so long that being allowed to go to a simple football game to release some of the pent up energy would mean our son wouldn’t come home again. This is our horrible reality and your nightmare. No one should need to worry about the safety of their child at a school sponsored game. Please accept our commitment to help you in any way we can. We know that you now use the memories of your son, Quraan, as the glue to put the pieces of your heart back together. May his smile be the sparkly blue glue that bubbles up when two pieces, two thoughts are placed together. May his courtesies be remembered as bright purple glue that spreads over everything. And may the gift of his life be a unifying force for his friends, family , school and district. May Quraan live continuously in our hearts and in our actions so that not one more beautiful Black young man dies a violent death at the hands of ANYONE. Please know that we are here, ready to listen and ready to breathe through this with you. We are ON Par.