Petition from current, former Concord students details racial concerns

  • Demonstrators start their march to the State House from Memorial Field on Saturday, June 6, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 7/30/2020 5:14:35 PM

The Concord School District is facing pressure from former students to make changes to school policy and take a public stance on the Black Lives Matter movement.

A petition, started last week by a group of more than 20 Concord students and graduates, calls for the school district to publicly condemn racism, and contains a list of specific actions the district should take to improve racial equity, including hiring more employees of color and changing curriculum for students.

“We expect that the district begins to listen to, respect, and act upon the voices of its Black students, Indigenous students, and students of color,” said Seneth Waterman, a 2012 graduate who contributed to the writing of the petition. “Our experiences as alumni demonstrate that this didn’t happen when we were in the CSD, and based on our conversations with current students, it is abhorrently evident that this is not happening now.”

By Thursday afternoon, the online petition had been signed by nearly 1,500 people.

The petition’s organizers, who range in age from current students to alumni from 2011, mobilized in a large group via Facebook to discuss the issue and share resources. Later, a smaller group of about five, mostly from the class of 2012, collaborated remotely via Zoom to create the petition and write up the list of demands.

Concord interim Superintendent Kathleen Murphy said she hadn't seen the petition yet, but plans to contact its organizers.

"My goal is twofold, one to reach out to those folks who developed the petition and have the opportunity to see what their articles are in the petition and see how we can work together with the anti-discrimination committee,” Murphy said. “And then get an action plan together for the district because I think we really need to do that work."

One of the petition’s organizers, Stephanie Yee, graduated in 2012, and now lives in Washington, D.C. Yee said it was important to get involved in racial activism in her home community, and to support current students who are advocating for change.

“Learning more about what’s happening in Concord with current students, that reminded me to engage in anti-racist work wherever I can and reflect back on my experience in the Concord School District,” Yee said. “It’s not something that directly impacts us per se, but it’s something that impacts our communities and the legacy of Concord School District.”

A group of current Concord students started an Instagram account two weeks ago, titled “Black at Concord High School,” where current students of color have been submitting their experiences with racism at CHS.

“White people throw micro-aggressions at me, saying ‘Oh, you’re from Africa? I didn’t expect you to talk so proper,’” reads one anonymous submission, from the class of 2023.

Another submission from the class of 2020 reads, “how many Black teachers work at CHS? None? Teachers can be some of the most influential people in teenagers’ lives, and not one person could relate or understand my personal experiences.”

The petition from alumni contains a list of eight demands, including mandatory bias training for all employees and updating classroom curriculum to include more texts by racially diverse authors and conversations around race and history of racism.

The first demand calls for a public statement endorsing the Black Lives Matter movement, something the district has never expressly stated.

“I think sometimes school administrations kind of veer away from using language like that and publicly endorsing that movement because of the misconception that it is political,” Yee said. “Our whole thing is that saying Black Lives Matter, and engaging explicitly in anti-racism, is about engaging with the community and the students in these schools to create a safer environment for students to learn.”

Two of the demands focused on staffing, with a call to increase racial diversity in hiring of employees and also to choose a permanent superintendent who has “demonstrated the capacity to enact anti-racist policies on a district-wide level.”

Murphy said some recommendations can be implemented quickly, others may take more time. 

“There is going to be a great opportunity here for collaboration with young people,” Murphy said. “I see it as a terrific opportunity to come together with all the groups and begin the work around the recommendations that have been made.”

Two of the demands focused on discipline, calling for the removal of school resource officers (SROs) and a switch to restorative justice practices for handling discipline. Concord High School has plans to begin implementing restorative methods as early as this fall, assistant principal Tim Herbert said in June, but has no plans to remove SRO positions, according to principal Mike Reardon.

The petition also asks the district to publicly release data about graduation rates, disciplinary actions, referrals to law enforcement and involvement in honors and advanced placement courses broken down by race and ethnicity.

Many Concord School District alumni have signed the petition and commented in support of the demands, including graduates from as far back as 1982.

“It was very cool to see how people communicated around choosing certain demands,” Yee said. “It was great to see that level of activism from my former classmates from 10 years ago.”

The alumni group hopes the administration will respond publicly to the petition, and be specific about policy changes they will make.

“As alumni, all of us have been harmed by a whitewashed curriculum and policies that perpetuated white supremacy,” Waterman said. “We deserved better, and know that current students deserve better.”

The next meeting of the district anti-discrimination committee is on Aug 13.

Murphy’s time as superintendent in Hampton included an inquiry by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights into the district’s handling of a family’s complaint that their African American daughter was discriminated against and bullied in elementary school. This February, the civil rights office concluded that the school system had responded insufficiently to the racial discrimination behind the bullying, even as it responded promptly to the bullying itself.

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