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Horace Greeley High School’s BIPOC Student Union (BSU) continued to press Chappaqua school officials to quickly fill a key administrative position a week after one of its members reported hearing students using racial slurs at the Chappaqua Library.
At the Board of Education’s Dec. 14 meeting, the BSU submitted a petition containing more than 700 names urging the board and administration to fill the now-vacant director of equity, inclusion, and wellness post. The former director, Phillip Marcus, left last month after two years in the district.
A history of microaggressions and hurtful comments from students toward youngsters of color in a predominantly white school district have been allowed to slide and points to the need for not only a director but trained personnel in every school to help educate students from a young age, some of the students argued.
“It is unacceptable for our lives and well-being to be threatened just because the district does not prioritize our needs,” said BSU member and sophomore Lily Brown. “In order to support students of color on a daily basis we need someone who’s trained in DEI work and to act as a leader for other individuals trained for this work. Without a dedicated person for diversity, equity and inclusion the effect is diluted.”
Earlier in the meeting, administrators laid out their plan to reshape the position for the next director. Feedback has been solicited from a wide range of community stakeholders and will be reviewed at a CARES Committee work session next month that will be run by the district’s consultant, Insight Education Group. In addition, data collected from the equity and special education audits, a student belonging survey and recommendations from Marcus will also be evaluated.
“So taking all of this, coming in, working with Insight and our CARES Committee, bringing all these pieces to the work session on Jan. 19 to examine all that and as a group of constituents to make recommendations going forth for this position,” said Andrew Corsilia, assistant superintendent for human resources and leadership development.
Other students mentioned that had there been a vacancy in any of the district’s other administrative positions, there would likely be a quick replacement or an interim installed. It has not been mentioned when a new director would be hired.
The BSU’s petition, which had been in the works since shortly after the Nov. 16 board meeting when the departure of Marcus was announced, took on greater importance after one of the organization’s co-presidents said at the meeting she overheard five district, middle school students, using the n-word at the public library after school nine says before the Dec. 14 meeting.
Senior Joyce Chen said she reported the identity of one of the students that she was aware of to a librarian and the incident to the school district. Chen, whose remarks were stopped on multiple occasions by board President Jane Shepardson for airing a matter that was mentioning administrators, said the interactions with school personnel left her distraught and that she was “sensing a lack of humanity and empathy” from the district.
“I would like to state that your students of color are hurting, your communities of color are tired,” said an emotional Chen. “Personally, I am exhausted. I am asking for accountability and improvement in the future. I’m asking for a system that doesn’t punish the student upstanders for communications that center on the hurt students’ experience and for an equity, inclusion and wellness expert in each school to guide conversations and next steps.”
There were also several adults who spoke in support of the BSU and implored the district to take the comments from students seriously. Sean Smith, a parent of a student in the district and a member of the Town of New Castle Committee on Race, Equity and Inclusion (CRE), read a statement on behalf of the committee that it has been made aware of the library incident and has been looking into the response by the library and the district.
“All New Castle residents should be free from the discrimination and harassment in our shared spaces,” the statement read. “The library, similarly, should be a haven for our residents, one where any visitor should expect to be treated with respect in a safe environment. It’s crucial that there’s a plan and accountability and enforcement of the rules of common decency, as well as the rules of the institution itself.”
The Examiner reached out to Library Board of Trustees President Elizabeth Haymson via e-mail last week but did not receive a response.
The incident was not reported to the New Castle Police Department, said Chief James Carroll.
Shepardson said she was saddened to hear the heartbreaking comments from students, not only about the incident at the library but other experiences that have been difficult for them. Chappaqua schools are committed to making progress to ensure every student feels safe and welcome.
“It hurts my heart to see students in pain,” Shepardson said. “I am sorry for your pain and I want to reiterate that every single person up here – I think I can speak for them – is committed to addressing that pain, and we are firmly committed to further our DEI work and doing it well and making sure that the right person or people lead it and lead it properly.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Ackerman said she takes seriously the students’ pleas and that it is her responsibility for what goes on in the district. School officials want to be certain that when they fill the position it effectively addresses the district’s needs.
Ackerman acknowledged that there need to be some adjustments in the district’s DEI initiative, but expressed confidence in how the district is approaching the issue.
“I want to make sure that we structure that position in a way that it meets our current needs, and so having multiple constituent groups around the table to help guide us in that conversation with Insight, I think is the best thing for this district at this time,” she said.
At the start of public comments, multiple speakers also appealed to the district to accommodate students of Asian heritage by having the schools observe several key holidays, including the Chinese Lunar New Year, Diwali and Eid al-Fitr. It was suggested that if the holidays don’t fall on weekends or other days off, superintendent’s conference days could be scheduled for those days, if feasible.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/