BERKELEY – The Central Regional School District has taken “initial steps” in addressing what students and parents have described as a culture of racism in the schools.
The district sent a list to families of current and newly formed measures, including:
- Establishment of an Equity Committee
- Crisis Team to manage students’ needs during times of difficulty, trouble or danger
- Board of Education denouncing racism
- Enacting the Board Social Media Policy for Board Members
- A People of Color student club
- A Gay Straight Alliance student club
- Annual review of the School District Code of Conduct
- Education and awareness training for all staff, administration, and students
- Parent/guardian and community education opportunities
- Implementation of new curriculum related to diversity education
- School district celebrations to support diversity
- Central Role Models – Character Education Program
Members of the community had said that race has historically been an issue in Berkeley but it has exploded recently. One board member, Heather Koenig, posted memes on Facebook that residents said were racist. Koenig had previously told The Berkeley Times that the postings were taken out of context. The relative of another board member, Merissa Borawski, allegedly posted anti-gay and anti-Black statements online.
In response, the board created a policy for members on how to conduct themselves on social media.
During the two most recent Board of Education meetings, community leaders, parents, and students – many of them people of color – spoke out against the social media posts. They said these posts were just a symptom of a larger culture of racism in the schools.
District officials said it was eye-opening to see just how deep the problem goes. They weren’t aware of the issues being brought up.
That’s because kids don’t feel comfortable making complaints, parents and students said. They feel that their complaints will fall on deaf ears or that they will be targeted if they come forward.
A week after the latest meeting, Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides sent out a message to parents about what the district is doing to address the situation. The letter included the above list.
“Our district’s mission is to inspire all learners to reach their full potential and create a positive legacy for the future. We believe students need to feel valued, know they belong, and see themselves reflected within the schools they attend in order to be successful,” he said. “However, we are learning that more work is necessary for our students to feel that every child matters. This is an important milestone for our district, and we believe it is our responsibility to take on a leadership role to break down barriers that exist within our schools and communities.
“As a district, we have to look to the past to understand our present, in hopes of fostering a better future. With this knowledge, the district is committed to engaging with people of all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds in uncomfortable but meaningful conversations” about systemic racism and valuing diversity, he said.
“Historically, around the globe and here at Central Regional School District, people have been and continue to be, categorized by their differences, and with that categorization comes inequalities. We understand that persons characterized by their differences continue to be disadvantaged because of these differences and social structures which are often not visible. Our district realizes we need to be better. Through education, our district aims to understand and challenge these existing structures, with the goal to remove barriers in order to create a safer and more inclusive school community. Our district will be doing everything possible to ensure all students feel nurtured and safe,” Parlapanides said.
The schools will continue to celebrate existing programs like Black History Month, Diversity and Respect Week, Autism Awareness, and Women’s History Month.
“We are proud of the work that is already underway by our staff and embraced by our students and we will put a greater effort towards sharing our ongoing accomplishments with parents and our communities,” he said. “As our district embarks on our educational journey, we recognize it is not something that can be accomplished in the short term. We anticipate challenges and struggles but rest assured the district is committed to this journey. Our upcoming challenges will be complex and sometimes uncomfortable but we will embrace the fact that we are in this together with the goal to inspire others both within the school and outside in our communities.”