Social Justice in Delta County School District

On July 20, 2020
Social Justice
Marisa Edmonson and Jordan Evans

About 60 protestors, many waving signs, stood outside the Delta County School District office on July 16 just before the regular district meeting to support Paonia High School alumni Marisa Edmonson and Jordan Evans. Edmonson and Evans had recently sent an open letter [see below] to district officials, signed by about 450 parents, teachers, students, and community members, demanding that the district address racism in the schools by implementing eight specific steps.

Some of those steps include banning clothing on campus that depict swastikas and the Confederate flag; adding authors of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) background to the syllabi; and including “racial equity, diversity, and inclusion in the district’s vision and core values”.

Edmonson, who graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont earlier this year, and Evans, now a student at Eastern University in Philadelphia, were at the meeting to address the board during the public comment period. Edmonson said that she and Evans had met with the school superintendent, Caryn Gibson, on Monday to discuss the letter’s demands and had walked away feeling disheartened.

“I personally didn’t feel heard.”

Before the public comment period, board president Jan Tuin read a statement on behalf of the board.

“Delta County School District is committed to educating and treating all students with equity and respect,” Tuin said.

“As a school district, we condemn all types of discrimination and injustice while promoting equitable opportunities and keeping our schools safe.”

Board secretary Linda Ewing also shared her thoughts. “I read your testimonials, and they broke my heart. Please don’t assume that we’re not listening because we really, really do care.”

Social Justice advocates

Open Letter to DCSD

*much of this letter was taken from Rachel E. Cargle’s “The Great Unlearn” template drafted by Tamara LaLande and Anna Yates

Dear Superintendent Gibson,

Our names are Marisa Edmondson and Jordan Evans and we are alumni of Paonia High School. We are writing on behalf of many alumni of Delta County School District. We understand this has been a demanding time, and recognize that as a district you have worked tirelessly to overcome those challenges. As alumni, we greatly appreciate your support for our students during the pandemic. However, as former students of color we are writing to bring attention to challenges DCSD has faced in providing a safe space for students of color. As Alumni of color, we have both experienced the lack of an inclusive and supportive culture at Delta County Schools. And through this letter we hope to provide a voice to the marginalized members of our community and ensure that future students will find that DCSD is an inclusive and safe space for all. Currently, our nation is experiencing a moment of heightened racial awareness and mourning the murders of Black Americans. As a school district, we believe this is a critical moment to consider the impacts of these traumatic modern events, and their direct connection to Black American History, on students of all races. We also must address the emotional state of students and staff in the wake of these events in order to make a lasting, positive impact on our students’ lives and collective futures. Finally, as a district, we believe it is imperative that we examine the ways this district has been unable to provide support and foster a safe space for Black, Indigenous and other students of color (BIPOC).

Conversations about race can be challenging, but we must turn silence into dialogue. These conversations are not reserved only for students of color, these conversations must be addressed for students in predominantly white schools too. You are equally responsible for helping our students build the capacity to understand and confront racism as well as to contribute to a society in which peace and justice prevail. What steps will you take today to provide parents with the resources needed to guide these conversations with students at home? What courses of action will you take to serve the Black and other students of color in your schools?

At this point, being “not racist” is simply not enough. It is imperative that we are actively anti-racist if we hope to someday live in a just and equal world; namely, this starts with education. Therefore we are asking for the Delta County School District to begin to actively take steps to foster and support a safe learning environment for Black students and other students of color, and to include curriculum to help our students build their capacity to understand and confront racism as well as contribute to a just and equal society.

In light of recent events, we have compiled a list of of tangible steps we would like to see Delta County School District take:

1) Issue a statement condemning violence and hate crimes committed against BIPOCs (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color) in America.

2) Be ready to provide support to students, faculty and staff in the wake of recent events by extending the role of counselors and providing them with training to support students who face race-based harassment, and to support students from underrepresented backgrounds.

3) Include racial equity, diversity, and inclusion as part of the District’s vision and core values.

4) Update and implement a “three tiered punishment” system designed to encourage education while also making sure students understand the weight of their actions when it comes to racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic and anti-semitic actions.

5) Develop and implement diversity training/ workshops for both educators and students on implicit bias, inclusive curricula, and classroom practices, including mindfulness and self-awareness in the classroom and after-school sports and clubs.

6) Update the dress code to prohibit clothing that incites violence, for example, clothing with a swastika or confederate flag should be banned from being worn on school property.

7) Incorporating more texts / resources into existing curricula
a) Expanding the number of authors from underrepresented backgrounds (BIPOC authors) in teachers’ syllabi.

b) History: what perspectives are you considering? Offer primary sources from the perspectives of people that weren’t the ones writing the textbooks.

c) Address portrayals of colonialism in history and language classes. Consider indigenous and enslaved voices.

d) Adjust and revise mandatory summer reading lists.

e) Included and update curriculum to include issues like: history of systemic racism, transatlantic slave trade, colonialism, Redlining, voter suppression, police brutality, war on drugs, racial wealth gap, genocide and removal of indigenous people from their homeland etc..

Here is a link to a list of resources and literature by predominantly black authors: however further research must be done to ensure that indigenous voices, Latinx voices, and other POC voices and perspectives are included in the curriculum.

8) Finally, we ask that Delta County School District remain transparent with the community throughout this process to ensure accountability by sharing and updating us through meetings and emails as to how you plan to make DCSD a safe space for Black students and other students of color and ensure that all students are given tools and education.

We also have a vested interest in making sure DCSD is better equipped to serve its future students, specifically Black students and other students of color. We also are invested in creating a meaningful culture change that centers around justice and equality for all. We understand that the steps we have outlined will be challenging; therefore as co-writers, we are willing to extend our support through this process by means of sharing resources and tools to help facilitate tough conversations, along with helping to provide and research tangible information about this such as updating the curriculum and developing and implementing diversity training and workshops for both students and educators.

At this moment, serving your Black students and other students of color means openly and loudly affirming your stance as an anti-racist institution, condemning all types of violence against Black people and other people of color in America, offering resources for both education and traumatized individuals, and committing your district to reconsidering how it’s policies, curriculums and staff can be updated to meet this significant moment. Most importantly, you can ensure that your attitudes and actions are consistently anti-racist as a standard.
Conversations about race profoundly affect our student’s lives, and they have power to influence our society’s collective strength. I ask that you please take the time to continually educate students, staff, and faculty on these matters, to ask questions, and most importantly, to take action.

Sincerely,

Marisa Edmondson, Paonia High School ‘16
Jordan Evans, Paonia High School ‘18

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