Massachusetts District, Feds to Work Together to Prevent Discrimination


Massachusetts' Melrose Public Schools District and the US government have reached an agreement to make the prevention of discrimination a priority and to investigate in an accurate manner any complaints made concerning discriminatory behavior or actions, writes The Boston Globe's Travis Andersen.

The move comes after a teacher made racially charged remarks to an African-American student, said Superintendent Cyndy Taymore. She added that she signed the resolution with the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights on December 17, and it will remain in place until December 2018.

As part of the agreement, the civil rights office will help schools in the district through programs and policies that prevent discrimination, said the superintendent.

"Going forward, we will actively investigate all reports of discrimination, harassment, or hostile environments and will take the necessary steps to remedy situations as needed," Taymore said.

The actual incident occurred in the spring of 2014 at the Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School and involved an unnamed student who was "subjected to harassment based on race." At the time, school officials did not adequately investigate the incident. Taymore said the teacher no longer works in the district.

The superintendent added that the teacher made a reference to African-American history that could be interpreted as discriminatory, but not overtly so. She explained that a harassment officer was hired to investigate any complaints and train staff on how to have a "respectful learning environment for all students."

The Boston Globe's Meagan McGinnes writes that the social studies teacher at the heart of this incident allegedly made a reference to a "plantation" after she had become frustrated with an African-American student. The student was part of a program that inserts inner-city students into suburban high schools.

"As upsetting as the precipitating event was, it provided us with an opportunity to address a difficult topic in our schools and our community," Taymore said. "The safety and well-being of our students is paramount. We have been actively engaged in improving our staff and students' awareness and responsiveness across all schools for the past 20 months and will keep this dialogue active and open."

And in an article by teacher Gregory Michie for The Huffington Post, Michie writes that in his 25 years as an educator, professional development has rarely been dedicated to building the "racial and cultural competence" of the schools' teachers. This lack of attention by white instructors has led to biases that have not been examined and lowered expectations for students of color.

He continues by noting that most teachers are looking through the lens of white privilege. The result can be practices and policies that culminate in inappropriate outcomes for many students who are black or brown.

He notes that the Discipline Disparities Research to Practice Collaborative paper shows there are disparities in school suspensions and expulsions, in the number of kids who drop out of school, and who spend time in prison when it comes to brown and black students.

The solution, concludes the paper's authors, is talking honestly about racial inequality. The unfortunate truth, says Michie, is that white people raised in the US internalize racist stereotypes early on. The conversations need to begin with small groups of teachers and can extend into professional development that includes all school staff members.

He concludes by saying that in a nation where too many brown and black children continue to have educational experiences that do not validate or value who they are, white teachers need to find ways to establish more equitable relationships with the black and brown students and families in their classes, schools, and neighborhoods.

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