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What will stop racism in Connecticut schools?


Connecticut schools are struggling to address racism and bias in their classrooms. Can just policy change the culture?

WSHU’s Ebong Udoma spoke with CT Mirror’s Ginny Monk to discuss her article, “CT parents, students call for school anti-racism policies,” as part of the collaborative podcast Long Story Short.

WSHU: Why the call for anti-racism policies now? Is this a fallout from the anti-racism demonstrations that followed the police killing of George Floyd a couple of summers ago?

GM: Yes. So the experts I spoke to for this story kind of talked about how following those protests, there were a lot more calls and a lot more policies being passed regarding anti-racism in school districts.

WSHU: Ginny, you investigated two school districts, Coginchaug and Suffield. Why did you choose them? And are they typical of Connecticut schools?

GM: So I chose those two school districts. I first heard from the students actually at Coginchaug, following a story I'd done on Killingly. So I think people were sort of getting a sense that I covered some of these issues related to school districts, and then the parents at Suffield reached out to me. You know, I'm not sure I would say it's typical. I think it's typical that many school districts are sort of dealing with these issues of how do we address race? What do we do when racist incidents happen at school?

But there's really a variety of ways that schools are dealing with that. Some of them have mission statements that deal with diversity, equity and inclusion, whereas some of them, you know, are doing some of that deep work of examining implicit bias and developing all of these anti racist policies that some of the experts I spoke to talked about.

WSHU: What are some of the problems with these policies?

GM: So the folks I interviewed sort of spoke about policies that weren't clear, that it wasn't clear if a student uses a racial slur then “x” happens, and that there weren't enough supports for students who experienced racism.

So particularly in Suffield, parents talked about how, you know, there would be a punishment for students who said something racist, but that afterwards, their children who experienced the racism, didn't have anyone at the school to talk to, didn't feel that they had enough support, and that it was harmful for those kids in their learning environment.

WSHU: You say here that it seemed as if racism and bullying were lumped together, and it was the same way that each issue was treated. Is that a problem?

GM: Yeah, so I'll kind of borrow some words from one of the experts I spoke with. Typically, bullying is something that occurs over a sustained period of time and and a lot of these incidents were sort of one interaction. And, you know, the other thing is that bullying is sort of a wide term, it can refer to many different sorts of interactions between students. And parents felt that racism should be treated differently.

WSHU: And also, there seems to be a focus on the instigator, rather than a more holistic approach to this?

GM: Correct. Parents kind of talked about how there was punishment for the instigator or even that there were conversations with the instigator about why it was wrong. And and those are positive things. But that needs to be paired with, again, support for the victim of the racism.

WSHU: You focused also on Suffield. And in Suffield, you said it's a majority white town. So it the children of color didn't feel particularly welcome in the school district. Could you expound a little bit on that?

GM: Yeah. So Martha Stone at the Children's Advocacy Center spoke about this a little bit in the article, how, you know, there's, there's been a push in Connecticut to diversify school districts, which is a positive thing. But often that means that children of color are going into these majority white school districts where they can feel alone, or they often aren't interacting with educators of color. And that comes with challenges.

WSHU: Now, what did the parents do in Suffield, because apparently, there's some type of group that was formed to try and help their students.

GM: Yeah. So they've been calling for meetings with the superintendent. They attend Board of Education meetings to talk to those officials about their kids experiences at the school and the things they think would make it better.

WSHU: Could you tell us the story of Mekhi Watson? What happened with him? What were the consequences?

GM: Yeah, so he sort of spoke about the day-to-day experience of being a student of color and the racism that he heard and experienced. The incident that we lead the story with was one day, he sort of described it, as you know, just a normal day at school, except he's he's hearing these racial slurs just as he's walking around the hallways. A

nd that really impacts his day. But he also talked a little bit about how a couple of folks actually spoke to this, how if you respond to every single incident that happens, that's all you're going to be doing and you can't live your life.

WSHU: So what are the best practices? what's recommended by the people who have studied this?

GM:Yeah, so as far as policies, they talked about that it needs to be clear that racism needs to be defined, and that the school should have a clear vision of what being an anti-racist district would look like for them.

And that consequences need to be clear that there needs to be a reporting system that everyone knows how to access, that there needs to be support for victims. And then there's sort of a deeper work that can be done at a district, Tim Sullivan with CREC spoke about how they're doing that work to examine the difference between their policies and their procedures. So the ways in which bias can play into the way you do your job and how that affects students.

WSHU: Now, there's been a statewide effort to try and recruit more minorities to teach and try and get more teachers of color. The governor has particularly pushed this, what's been happening with that and is that a way to try and help deal with the racism problems in schools?

GM:Yeah so I think overall a lot of districts are struggling with teacher recruitment, and I do think a lot of the experts spoke about how important it is to have educators of color that they can talk to and just have in their lives, someone who is teaching them that looks like them and has some similar experiences to them.

WSHU: So can policy alone eradicate racism in Connecticut public schools?

GM: I don't think so, no. It’s deeper work than just policy solutions.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.