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Concord School Board takes stand against racism

  • Concord School District Building Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 1/10/2021 6:32:07 PM

One of the first actions of the newly seated Concord School Board last week was to reaffirm the district’s stance against racism, adopting its first official statement on the topic since June, when protests over the death of George Floyd spurred a national dialogue.

On Monday, at the first school board meeting of the year, the board voted unanimously to adopt a statement promising to stand up against racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry.

“In light of recent events and the rise of anti-Semitism, racism, and bigotry across the state, we, the Concord School Board, reaffirm our commitment to stand up against these injustices and work toward making our district more tolerant, inclusive and safe for each member of our community,” the statement reads.

It was the first meeting of the new school board with all four of the new members who were elected in November. Jonathan Weinberg, one of the new members, proposed the motion.

“Having somewhat of an almost half-new board, I think it would be a great opportunity for us to set the standard for how we want to move forward in the next year,” Weinberg said. “Given what we’ve seen across the state, I think it would be prudent for us as a board for us to show where we stand.”

Board member Barb Higgins agreed.

“Any time a topic is tricky or difficult, we all want to do the right thing but we don’t want to be uncomfortable and we don’t want to talk about it,” Higgins said. “Putting it out there that we will talk about it and we will try to walk our talk is just as important a piece of this initiative as all the changes that need to come.”

Last month a Laconia State Representative and member of the Laconia School Board posted a link to an article with an anti-Semitic image from a neo-Nazi website. She refused to resign from either elected position.

The Concord School District faced pressure from students and alumni this summer to take a stance against racism and make some key changes to promote equity. In response, an anti-discrimination/anti-racism advisory group was formed to advise the district on ways it can improve. The committee includes school district administrators, teachers, parents, students and community members and meets monthly.

The committee has a racial equity action draft plan, which is a living document that includes items like re-evaluating the use of school resource officers and making curriculum more inclusive. There are subcommittees that work on various projects like creating a resource list, and planning for restorative justice methods of discipline.

The district is planning to launch a page on its website soon, dedicated to anti-racism efforts that will contain the committee meeting minutes, the draft plan, updates and resources.

In addition to the committee, the district has held three anti-racism training sessions for district administrators, conducted in partnership with New Hampshire Listens, a group from University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy that facilitates community dialogue. Murphy told the board Monday that the virtual trainings include presentations, videos, where participants break into small groups to discuss the topics, then return to a larger group to share thoughts and discoveries.

“The sessions have been very well done and well-received,” Murphy said Monday. “It was very important to us, the staff felt it was good information, valuable and really helped them to be very reflective on this topic.”

Concord administrators are also reading the book “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by psychology of racism expert Beverly Daniel Tatum, Murphy told the Monitor Thursday.

There is a fourth administrator training scheduled for Jan. 24. School board members will participate in an anti-racism training session virtually at their board retreat on Jan. 16. New Hampshire Listens will also be doing anti-bias work with high-school students.

On Jan. 25 the district is hosting an all-day virtual Zoom workshop for teachers and staff on social-emotional learning through an equity lens, that will feature guest speaker Latoyia Edwards, an NBC Boston news anchor.

“There is a lot of work to be done,” Murphy said Thursday. “But I feel like we are taking small steps and gaining some momentum in the work.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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