School board taken to task over alleged incidents at Champlain Valley Union High School

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 19, members of The Champlain Valley School District board were extensively criticized for its handling of alleged incidents at Champlain Valley Union High School.

While participants at the meeting, including members of the school board, did not make it clear what the topic of the discussion was about, school district representative Bonnie Birdsall wrote in an email after the meeting that the discussion concerned athletic teams at Champlain Valley Union High School, which is within the school district.

However, while the board discussed the handling of the alleged incidents, the details of the alleged incidents were not.

“Just so you know, there are a lot of community members that are paying attention and the less you do about it, the more we are going to do about it,” Christine Hughes, Burlington High School graduate said. “I really encourage you to do your job. We talk a lot about fairness, but from what I understand in this situation, it was pretty unfair.”

Mia Schultz, who is the president of the Rutland Area NAACP, said that multiple systemic problems have been exposed in the athletic system due to the alleged incidents, including the school district’s selection process for athletic participation.

“I have been made aware that it appears that it is evident that there is no process of selection and it’s biased and riddled with discrimination, nepotism, and favoritism,” Schultz said. “I am urging this school governing board to be proactive and begin the process to evaluate the athletic selection process. That means having a transparent selection process where there is a standardized scoring system, and each student gets an evaluation report. It also means that evaluators should not have any personal ties to the students. We should also disallow putting people on the team because of those relationships and connections.”

Schultz also issued her concerns that, according to her, the school district is investigating the incidents by using a law firm connected to the district.

“This process of investigation has placed the burden on the victims and not on the people who are being accused,” Schultz said. “Furthermore, the lawyers who have been chosen are connected with the schools and they are biased. Therefore, there does not appear to be an investigation process that is a true truth-seeking process, but one that will release the school and the participants from responsibility. The complainants had to endure insulting lines of questioning and have been treated with disrespect. This too is indicative of a systemic flaw within your systems. You are not living up to your own equity statements. There are issues in your school regarding equity.”

Tia Ganguly, who has one daughter enrolled in the school district, said that the school district is not listening to concerns from the BIPOC community.

“We have evidence from last year’s school board meetings of ways BIPOC voices were silenced and cut off, while white voices were given more time and respect when our community tried to advocate for changes to the DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) hiring process,” Ganguly said. “This is a critical time for self-reflection for us as a community. We are in danger of missing the point again.”

Ganguly added that “Your words do not matter. Your actions do.”

No actions were taken based on public comments to the board.