Concord initiates conversation about bias and discrimination in education

  • GEOFF FORESTER

  • Part of the Black Lives Matter rally at the State House on Saturday, June 6, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Part of the Black Lives Matter crowd at the State House Plaza in Concord on Saturday afternoon, June 6, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 6/17/2020 3:54:21 PM

The Concord School District held its first community conversation last week about bias and discrimination in education. Now, the school board says the discussion will continue on a regular basis.

“It is critically important that we have these kinds of discussions,” said James McKim, president of Manchester NAACP, who participated in the call. “There are so many people who don’t understand what discrimination is, what it looks like. Without this conversation, people will not understand that this is happening, that though they may not be explicitly responsible, they are implicitly responsible in their silence of not acknowledging it.”

The online conversation on June 8 was organized by Concord School Board members and Superintendent Frank Bass in response to the June 6 protest against racism and police brutality led by Concord High School students. The protest drew well over 1,000 demonstrators to Concord.

“Right now, thanks in no small part to millions of Americans participating in protests like the one in Concord, a critical mass of people are waking up to the reality that we can do so much better ... if we are to achieve a society where everyone has an equitable chance to live, learn, and pursue their dreams,” School Board President Jennifer Patterson and member Liza Poinier wrote in a June 12 letter to the community. “Racism, discrimination, and injustice have no place in the Concord School District.”

Originally, about six to eight people had been formally invited to speak, but the conversation included as many as 22 people over the duration of the hour-long discussion. Newly appointed superintendent Kathleen Murphy was on the call, as well as current administrative leadership, school board members, parents and students.

“We all have biases and stereotypes that sort of dictate how we engage with people different from us when we have not had a relationship with them,” said Michael Worsley, who was on the call. Worsley runs a consulting business in cross-cultural ethnic skill development. “Moving forward, since George Floyd, it is very apparent that this is something we need to continue. We need to have some action.”

The participants discussed training and awareness that can help identify and prevent bias in different forms, including microaggressions. The group also discussed implementing cultural awareness training for students starting in the early elementary school years, so that students have that knowledge by the time they reach high school.

Worsley said he hopes to see changes that go beyond only helping students who have experienced bias.

“I think the awareness has to come first from the faculty, from the adults,” Worsley said. “We teach our kids that when something like this happens, they go to the teacher.”

Karen Fischer-Anderson, the district’s safety compliance officer, said that from a Title IX perspective, it’s important to have formal policies on how to deal with bias problems after they are identified.

“When you have discrimination and it affects equity and education, you have to have processes and procedures in effect that allow people to file a grievance, a formal complaint and informal complaint,” Fischer-Anderson said. “We hope it won’t get to that point but if it does, people need to know how to file a complaint.”

In the meeting, Fischer-Anderson also raised the idea of restorative justice for students as an alternative to punishments like suspensions. Some of the conversation had been around Concord School District’s disciplinary system, and examining whether non-white students are punished disproportionately to white students.

“Most times they end up with an in-school suspension or an out of school suspension. Then they are not in class,” Fischer-Anderson said. “If we could implement restorative justice programs, it could be a much more educational outcome.”

McKim also suggested curriculum changes to improve history education and help students of color understand why they may be treated differently by society.

“We are very much aware that the textbooks that are in use do not teach the full history of this nation and how slavery was executed and implemented and occurred in this country, and even to what this impact might have been in New Hampshire,” McKim said.

Bass said the first meeting was intended to be a “litmus test” to understand perspectives and see what steps need to be taken.

He said he plans to include as many students as possible, and make student input a big part of the conversation.

“When you give them the ball, they can really run with it,” he said. “I am going to try and take advantage of that as much as they can.”

He hopes the next meeting, which will happen June 22, will be about developing an agenda, giving the working group some structure and determining members who will be part of the process.

“We are really excited about this, we think it’s a great opportunity for the Concord School District,” Bass said. “I really hope this takes a firm hold on the way that we conduct ourselves going forward.”


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