Concerns raised about Champlain Valley School District’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program

During a Board of School Directors meeting on Oct. 19, Charlotte resident Mary Golek read into the record an email on behalf of The Charlotte Community DEI Committee.

In the email, The Charlotte Community DEI Committee is described as “a group of concerned parents, caregivers, and community members.”

“It has come to our attention that all five of the CVSD DEI coaches have resigned,” Golek read. “We are writing to inquire as to the reasons and the process for replacement. We are very concerned that all of the coaches who began this work last year have now resigned.”

The committee wrote that “it is very important that parents and caregivers be involved in the selection process and that the CVSD community has a better understanding of the job descriptions and support provided to these individuals.”

Board members at the Oct. 19 meeting did not respond to Golek’s reading of the committee’s email.

At the school district’s Board of School Directors meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 2, Christina Deeley, Librarian for Champlain Valley Union High School, spoke of her concerns.

Deeley said that she was a DEI Coach for the high school.

“I am speaking today to provide some clarity around my decision to resign from that position,” Deeley told the board. “Over the past few weeks, I have seen several district-wide emails referring to the departure of almost the entire equity team.”

Deeley said that only two of the original 10 team members remain and the team is without the director.

“I have listened to mention of it at these board meetings, but I’ve heard little interest in understanding why we are where we are, even as you prepare to hear yet another presentation about equity this evening,” Deeley said, referring to an equity presentation by Dr. Luvelle Brown scheduled for later in the meeting.

“For the past year, the DEI team has worked tirelessly to put equity at the forefront in the absence of a director, or any leadership from district administration,” Deeley said. “The team put together professional development opportunities. They helped facilitate discussions and growth opportunities for faculty and staff. They reached out to community groups and facilitated events in their schools.”

Deeley said that DEI team members participated in the hiring committees for the superintendent and DEI Director positions.

“The women on the DEI team, particularly the women of color, bore the brunt of this important work with minimal compensation and regular opposition from some administrators,” Deeley said. “Pushback and micromanaging from principals across the district was common for many coaches. It is not unexpected for white leaders to slow progress and pace for privileges. But this year, the principals at Charlotte Central School (CCS) crossed a line for me.”

Deeley went on to make accusations against members of Charlotte Central School.

“They attempted to control DEI work, to handpick their new DEI coach, circumventing a process that gives access to all faculty and staff,” she said. “This raised serious concerns for our team. The principal’s subsequent attack of the women of color leading this work was completely unacceptable. Words, such as ‘white supremacist’ were used to describe the actions of our lead DEI coaches and the superintendent, who are all people of color. When Superintendent [Rene] Sanchez refused to bring these actions to account or to require an equitable and transparent process in the selection of new coaches, I made the decision to resign. So where are we today? Many of the women of color leading this work have left these important roles. Their skills, passion, and drive are not replaceable.”

Deeley said the two remaining women on the DEI team are “left with a heavy burden.”

“This comes as the district gears up for its equity audit and its third attempt to hire a permanent DEI director,” Deeley said. “So who will replace those of us who have left? Specifically, the women of color. I am doubtful there are any educators of color wanting to fill these positions in part because our district employs so few people of color. Will the principals in our district be more willing to listen to their straight white equity coaches? I’m not sure. The only thing I am sure of is that I cannot stay silent. If I have learned anything over the past few years, it is that real progress requires accountability and the willingness to experience discomfort in search of growth.”

In an email to The News, Superintendent Sanchez responded to Deeley’s accusations.

“District leaders are meeting with both groups to determine a mutually agreed-upon outcome and a path forward,” he said. “The district views this situation as an opportunity to practice our commitment to equity – which includes becoming less conflict-averse by acknowledging differing perspectives and working with all those involved to reach a resolution.”

Sanchez added that the board and the school district will be reviewing their community speakers’ policy for board meetings.

“Our implementation of the policy will be to prevent community speakers who attempt to identify specific individuals and issues that are covered by privacy concerns,” Sanchez wrote. “Public meetings are not the venue for such conversations. Rather, if there are personnel issues that need to be addressed, they should follow the normal course of business within the school district processes.”

In recent months, during the public comments portion of Board of School Directors meetings, concerns have been raised over the way the school district has handled issues concerning alleged incidents at Champlain Valley Union High School, and COVID-19 procedures.

Meanwhile, via school district Communications Director Bonnie Birdsall, CCS Lead Principal Stephanie Sumner, Co-Principal Jen Roth, and Special Education Administrator Cassandra Townshend released a joint statement addressing the accusations made by Deeley. The statement read, in full:

“We would like to clarify and set the record straight regarding misrepresentations of our actions and our words. We write this with the intention of building collective understanding based on the timelines and facts of the months‐long process that is still open regarding our DEI coaching position at CCS. We write this to speak our truth and share the impact of the public statements made about us, fully cognizant of our own identities.

We’d like to address how Christina represented the use of the term ‘white supremacist construct’ as it was inaccurate. We did not use that term to describe the actions of the DEI coaches. We stated in an email that we had been told last year across settings where our Equity work was happening that delaying this work was a white supremacy construct ‐ we wanted to be clear that we understood this barrier to equity and were trying not to perpetuate that construct by being actionable within our building. In Christina’s address to the board, it was stated that there was a ‘subsequent attack on the people of color leading this work.’ The communications we sent, repeatedly requesting to meet with the superintendent and the lead coaches supporting this process, went unanswered. It is deeply troubling that the interpretation of our requests for meetings to move this work forward was characterized as an attack on people of color. Stating publicly that we made an attack on other professionals is an inaccurate and serious accusation.

A final point to address is in regards to ‘our appointment’ of a DEI coach and the accusation that we were interfering with and controlling the DEI work. We do not have a coach yet. We put it out many times, we have one applicant that we support and we’re waiting for Rene to complete the process or tell us to go back to the drawing board. It is unfortunate that an actual conversation, or calling in, wasn’t initiated to discuss concerns. What has been stated regarding our work with our DEI coach last year and the DEI work we’ve supported and led collaboratively with our faculty, staff, and community members was misinformed. We continuously ask for faculty and staff input and respond to it while we learn alongside them. Sometimes that is hard feedback, but it keeps the work honest. The characterization offered in Christina’s statement was not honest or accurate, and there was no attempt to ask for the truth of what was or was not in place with our coach or our equity work at CCS.

There is much to be discussed about intention, impact, and implicit bias here ‐ for all of us. We continue to work on our own understanding and actions, daily. We welcome communication and collaboration to work together in moving this work forward. We are committed to this work and will provide the supporting evidence to publicly correct the shared misinformation for our community and board upon request.”