In Addition to Disciplinary Actions, Administration Adopts Restorative Practices
A group of some 100 Amity students participated in a sit-in in the main hallway at the high school on April 6, to draw attention to persisting problems around racial discrimination among students, and the lack of consequences against those who engage in it. The protest was in reaction to three incidents of racial slurs used against students of color, both openly in the hallway, and in texts, said one of the organizers, Black Student Union president Kwasi Adae.
A video of the protest was posted online and was viewed by this reporter, but has reportedly been removed since. The sit-in was billed as a silent protest, even though the sharing of experiences was encouraged. For the most part participants did sit quietly and listened to what the speakers had to say.
Several of the participants shared their own experience with such incidents, such as hearing the n-word and other derogatory language used against them. “People are saying slurs with little or no consequences,” Kwasi said.
“So many kids are using racial slurs,” said another student participating in the protest. “Kids grabbing your hair.” She said when she reported it, she was told to be the bigger person and disregard the slight. “I don’t think that’s fair,” she said.
One student resented being called on during Black History Month. “It’s not my job to educate the school about Black History. We should be participating in it, but not initiating it.”
Protest organizers called on the administration to pay more attention to the problem, and called on the Board of Education to institute policies that will punish students who engage in it, especially repeat offenders.
“The climate for black and brown students is unacceptable,” Kwasi said in his impassioned speech at the sit-in. “We need change and we need it now.”
School Supt. Dr. Jen Byars said in a phone interview that the district already has a policy on the books that governs student behavior. Policy 5131 lists the use of obscene or profane language or gestures as one behavior potentially leading to disciplinary action. The action recommended ranges from a warning to suspension.
What irked several students at the protest was that in their perception the issue is handled as a publicity issue. “Kids who are athletes get away with this stuff,” said one student.
Another student shared how a kid in Chem class was playing the Russian anthem, which did not go over well with a student of Ukrainian background. When they confronted the student who played the music, passions flared, and the student ended up hitting them. The teacher did not report the incident, they said. Instead, they were told that “there is always two sides to the story.” “There is not two sides to being insensitive,” the student said.
Dr. Byars and her team of administrators are often caught in the middle of these situations. She said there is a perception that students do not receive consequences, because those consequences are not shared publicly. Sometimes the allegations cannot be proven; often they turn out to be different than originally perceived. “That fuels the perception that nothing was done.”
In addition to disciplinary actions, the administration adopts restorative practices, she said. In these instances, it might facilitate conversations between the two parties involved to promote a pathway to better co-existence.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent