standing Chariho High School

Chariho High School. Sun file photo

WOOD RIVER JCT. — At the urging of Hopkinton School Committee member Lisa Macaruso, Chariho administrators will explore the possibility of forming a task force to address racism in the school district. 

Macaruso and School Committee chairman Ryan Callahan will meet Wednesday with Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard and Chariho principal Craig MacKenzie.

Macaruso said she hoped the issue of anti-Semitism would be included in the discussion.

“I have a meeting with somebody in the community that has experienced a lot of anti-Semitism, and so I am trying to invite that group into the conversation,” she said. “This is about, yes, Black lives, but also it being an anti-racist community is much broader than that, too.”

Macaruso said she was inspired to take action after attending a Black Lives Matter protest in Richmond on June 8.

“The Chariho High School students that organized a very successful Black Lives Matter peaceful protest inspired me to use my position to address this systemically,” she said. “I was impressed with our students. I was proud of our community."

Macaruso said she had been disappointed that more officials from the Chariho towns hadn't attended the protest, but she was impressed by the conduct of Richmond police officers at the scene.

"I was somewhat dismayed that I didn’t see more people from our town councils and from official capacities at that rally, but what I did see was a partnership between the Black Lives Matter peaceful protesters and our law enforcement," she said. "They were there to protect our peaceful protesters, not to protect anybody from them and that also made me very proud.”

Picard, who took over as superintendent less than a month ago, said she first wanted to learn which initiatives the district has already undertaken.

Picard also suggested that the district might also consider working with the Providence consulting group, Diversity Talks.

“If we do decide to participate, and I’m actually going to bring it to the table for conversation, it would be at no cost to the district,” she said. “It’s a youth-led service. I’m a huge proponent of peer-to-peer. That’s really powerful."

Macaruso noted that racism in the Chariho community occurs on several levels and can be difficult to recognize.

“What’s difficult to recognize is systemic and institutionalized racism,” she said. “People can and do, at Chariho, say racist things but they don’t mean to be racist … Without education and very clearly examining our policies and practices through an anti-racist lens, without doing that, we can’t identify and move forward and be a less racist community.”

Macaruso said she hoped the School Committee would form a group that would include experts in the field of racism. She has also requested that the racism issue be on the agenda of the next School Committee meeting on July 21.

“The outcome I’m looking for is for the School Committee to form and support a task force or subcommittee with the sole intent of looking at our policies and practices,” she said. “Then, the real work begins…I am not meant to be the solution to the problem. I am meant to put the tracks down and put the systems in place to get the problem solved.”

Picard said she hoped the committee would first look at the existing curriculum.

“I think  always a good place to start is within the curriculum,” she said. “I think for us, we want to be thinking cohesively and making sure there’s this lens that makes it clear, what are we, as educators, looking to do?” she said. “The role of an educator, it’s about learning. It’s about conversation it’s about dialogue and it’s about being open to ensure there’s safe spaces for our students to be able to have this conversations.”

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