Over the past few years, students at Amity High School have taken the lead in calling out incidents of racial and religious bias and an atmosphere that some students find uncomfortable and intimidating. In 2018, “The Amity community was stunned…when dozens of students, many of them Jewish, streamed to the podium at a Board of Education meeting with compelling testimony about a longstanding climate of anti-Semitism in the school.” (New Haven Register, “Anti-Semitism at Amity High School Leaves Many Wondering ‘How could it happen here?’” November 17, 2018)
The morning after the meeting, the Amity administration “went into quick action,” including an acknowledgement of the students’ experiences, bringing in the Anti-Defamation League, and more. (New Haven Register article above.)
The young people had made their case.
In the Summer of 2020, a group of recent Amity High School graduates organized a Black Lives Matter event on the Town Green. Among the speakers was the mother of recent graduate Ryan Rattley, who could not be there, but provided a letter that his mother read. Ryan wrote, in par, “I did not have a black teacher while in the Amity Regional School District until I was a junior in high school. The first time I was ever called the N-word was on the bus home from elementary school. When I was in middle school the police were called on me, my brother, and our father while we were sitting in our car outside of the house I had lived in for my entire life. What lesson does that teach a middle schooler about how welcome he is here?”
First Selectman Beth Heller was “greatly moved” by the words of Ryan and the other young people who spoke. She said, “It was apparent that the event was a great start, but a start only, on the work that Woodbridge should be doing to enhance and assure diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our Town life.” In order to “assure an ongoing, committed focus” on these issues, First Selectman Heller created The Woodbridge Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (Ad Hoc DEI Committee).
The young people had made their case, again.
In 2021, NBC Connecticut reported on an Amity Board of Education meeting at which students described the atmosphere at school as “toxic and unsafe.” They described “intolerant and hostile environments in the middle and high schools.” (NBC Connecticut, “Parents, Students Speak Out About Racial Hostility in Amity High School at BOE Meeting, June 15, 2021.)
Amity Superintendent Jennifer Byers responded, “I want to work with parents, students, and our faculty to address the reality that students do feel unwelcome in Amity. And while we have done work in this area, clearly more work needs to be done. And I am committed to that.” (NBC Connecticut article above.) Superintendent Byers demonstrated commitment this year, as did the Amity Board of Education. In bi-partisan vote of 12-1, the Amity Board of Education approved a budget that included funding for a half-time Diversity, Equity and Inclusion instructional coach. Despite the strong Board support, this budget was defeated in the first Amity referendum; the fate of the position is unknown at the time of writing this column.
The young people had made their case yet again; so much more still needs to be done.
Of course, young people are not alone in calling for greater attention to and action to address discrimination and exclusion, here in Woodbridge and across our state and our country. While some may disagree with specific actions or initiatives, there can be no serious disagreement as to the need for sustained and bold action.
As James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
You can help by taking take 10 minutes to fill out the Experiencing Woodbridge Survey, created by the Ad Hoc DEI Committee. You can access the survey from the Town website or at: https://survey.zohopublic.com/zs/zhB3NB.
By Ellen Scalettar – Chair, Woodbridge Democratic Town Committee