CVSD board addresses racism

By Nancy Richardson

The Champlain Valley School District (CVSD) board spent the June 9 meeting discussing a response to the social upheaval occurring in the nation because of systemic racism. A letter to the board from 60 teachers and staff requested that the board make an affirmative statement supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and take a stance in addressing racism in the school district. Acknowledging that the district has work to do in the area of racial relations, the board responded by voting to waive the restrictions on raising the BLM flag at CVU and approved the raising of the flag in all K-8 schools in the district from June 15 to the end of the school year. In addition, a task force of board members will meet to issue a written statement in response to the faculty letter and to affirm the board’s commitment to racial justice.

Superintendent Elaine Pinckney stated that there is no question that incidents of racial harassment have occurred in the district. Students of color comprise 10 percent of the total student population. Since 2018, schools have been engaged in professional development featuring experts in the field, have formed diversity committees in each school, have improved the curriculum, and have become more aware of unconscious bias in instruction and discipline. The district has been pursuing a coordinated response to these issues across all schools.

The focus this year has been to improve recruitment of minority staff and faculty, review existing policy and practice in the district, and examine the curriculum to ensure that the effects of institutional bias are addressed. The district has a hired diversity coordinator to lead this effort. Some of these efforts have had to be suspended temporarily because of COVID- 19. Pinckney stated that the district tracks major incidents of harassment, but that there is no general tracking system for the small incidents that may go unreported. That matter is under review. The board and administration acknowledged their responsibility and commitment to address and mitigate the effects of racism in the district.

In other matters, the board supported the effort of Jeanne Jensen, chief operations officer, to plan to continue to provide free food service for students over the summer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has not renewed the funding to provide free food for students across the country. One in five families in the United States does not have enough food. The cost of providing the food this summer will be about $125,000. Jeanne Jensen praised the work of the food service staff who have risked their own welfare to cook and deliver the food to students in need.

There will be a four-week summer program for students who need compensatory services. More information on this and other matters will be addressed at the next board meeting at the end of June.