School Board Adopts Anti-Racist Resolution

Talon Smith, Editor-in-Chief

Derry Township School District announced their intent to follow an anti-racist resolution on August 10 2020.

This announcement came amid the rush of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests across the United States. These protests were sparked when George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis citizen, was killed by police officers, who have since been charged with murder.

Accompanying the protests were waves of information on racism and anti-racist behavior spread through social media and events. One such event, Why Black Lives Matter, took place in downtown Hershey.

“We must recognize that racism and hate have no place in our schools and society,” the school board’s resolution said.

The resolution opens with recognizing the existence of systemic racism within their institution and ends with five action steps in order to combat this issue.

The action steps include reviewing and improving the diversity and equity policy, adopting a new policy for trauma-informed care, continuing with the enhancement of social emotional learning and restorative discipline techniques, continuing to examine and update social studies and english language arts (ELA) curriculum on a diversity basis, and continuing partnerships with community organizations which offer opportunities for learning and professional development.

The school board’s diversity, inclusion, and equity policy, which can be found on the online policy menu under the number 103.2, was put into place in January of 2019. Joseph McFarland, the district’s outgoing superintendent, said that the plan involving this policy is to evaluate what can be improved upon.

One such area of improvement that McFarland indicated the district intends to work on is that of creating a more diverse staff to accurately represent the student population. For perspective, there is currently one Black teacher in the highschool.

A school board policy focused on trauma-informed care has yet to be approved. The support for students exposed to trauma lessons given during homeroom were based on this idea. As for the anti-racist connection, it presumably comes from the fact that racism, and specifically the violence brought into focus by the BLM protests, can inflict trauma on Black people.

McFarland said enacting a trauma-informed care policy would be a current goal.

As for the third action step, social emotional learning refers to a multifaceted approach to learning that encompases several components of an individual, such as their emotions and social awareness. This blends together with the former step as far as implementation goes.

Restorative discipline, also part of the third action step, involves creating less punishing means of discipline. Dr. Jeffery Smith, the highschool principal, described it as a non-punitive approach. Dr. Smith said, “punitive means clearly don’t solve problems.”

The school has been working to implement restorative means over the years, according to Dr. Smith.

Both social studies and ELA curriculum are currently and have been under view in regards to diversity. Dr. Stacy Winslow, the district’s assistant to the superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and assessment, spoke on the changes.

The ELA curriculum has seen more changes, working to add more diverse books over the past several years. “Trying to get rid of the old, dead, white guy cannon,” Dr. Winslow said.

The social studies curriculum, said Dr. Winslow, needs the most work. She said there are only a few people of color talked about. The, “depth and breadth of people who contribute to history,” is not fully covered.

Dr. Winslow said that they are currently asking teachers to look at the curriculum and evaluate where they are. Changes to the social studies curriculum will take longer to implement. 8th and 9th graders will begin to see some of these changes.

Her vision, Dr. Winslow said, for changes to both ELA and social studies, “is that every student sees themselves somewhere in our curriculum.”

The final action step involves community organizations. McFarland and Dr. Winslow spoke specifically about the YWCA offering anti-racist trainings to school staff. Some of the topics that have been covered are white supremacy and privilege, internal biases, oppression, and microaggressions.

These trainings have not been required of staff, but the goal, according to McFarland, is that all staff have the opportunity.

The school board currently has no plans to change or end their relationship with the police department.

Dr. Smith said that it has always been an expectation that any school staff are held accountable for racist actions. Any racist behavior can be reported to the administration like other issues. A larger student voice, Dr. Smith said, is how to ensure staff are held accountable.

McFarland said that systemic racism in the school institution is, “not a quick fix.”

“We need to continue to […] acknowledge and address systems of oppression and privilege,” Dr. Smith said, “We have to understand that it’s important to interact effectively with others and it’s a duty and responsibility to be more accepting and inclusive.