As our family prepared for this school year, we received a greeting letter and a questionnaire from our child’s second-grade teacher. We were asked to share numerous items, including our child’s favorite activities, some of his strengths and struggles, and also a question that asked if our family had ever experienced discrimination at school.
This is an example of diversity, equity, and inclusion in action. This teacher is doing her best to openly communicate with parents to ensure that her classroom will be a safe and supportive learning environment for all students.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are concepts that relate to the human issue of belonging. They can help us craft a broader human narrative so that more people feel the power of belonging and having a valuable place within their community. To be enacted, these concepts require empathy, and a shared understanding of historical context. Unfortunately, these human concerns have had a political fire lit underneath them that claims they are part of an agenda to destroy schools and communities. This fire has spread to School Committee meetings in our district and across the state and country. This movement attempts to devalue and, in some instances, punish efforts of anti-racism.
In North Kingstown, a member of the School Committee has experienced a smear campaign and faced a petition for her recall due to her involvement in the formation of a diversity, equity and inclusion subcommittee. This recall effort failed but it’s part of a trend to target School Committee members. According to Ballotpedia, there have been 81 School Board recall attempts this year so far. The average for the past 10 years is 27. This dramatic increase illustrates what I believe is part of the radicalized right’s agenda to discredit public institutions such as schools and libraries. I fear for the repercussions of these attacks on the female-dominated fields of K-12 education and libraries, where many women undertake intersecting caretaking roles as both educators and mothers.
One of the most vocal critics of anti-racism in our community has been Pastor Dave Stall, who shocked many at the School Committee meeting on Sept. 28 when he resigned from his position on the School Committee. In his resignation letter, Mr. Stall asserted that he represents the “quiet majority” of our district. This view that it’s only important to represent the majority voice, which in this district falls to white families, is the exact reason why we need efforts for diversity, equity and inclusion. There are students in our schools who are considered a minority group for their racial or cultural identity but also for factors such as unique learning needs, behavioral issues, and varying levels of physical ability.
ALL students in our district deserve representation. The School Committee needs engaged citizens who are pro-Chariho and understand the crucial role of a strong school system within our community. We must work to make progress on the issues of ensuring a quality public education to all students, and not the issues created by political fire.