Racial Harassment in Vermont Public Schools


Chapter 2

Presentations by Parents, Students, Teachers and Administrators, and Community and Advocacy Group Representatives


Introduction

At the 2-day community forum, 36 panelists offered their views of racial harassment in the public schools. Presenters included invited panelists and individuals wishing to offer information to the Committee during the forum’s open sessions.[1] The presentations have been arranged according to three subject headings: (1) parents and students, (2) teachers, school administrators, and support personnel, and (3) community and advocacy group representatives.

Each section includes a listing of presenters, a brief introduction, their edited statements,[2] and a summary of the major points of each group’s presentation. Participant statements have been edited by the Advisory Committee for readability and overall organization within the chapter and have been reviewed by the participants for accuracy.

The number of presentations at the forum represents a small fraction of persons invited by the Advisory Committee to participate in the discussion. The Advisory Committee made substantial outreach efforts to obtain a balance of viewpoints from a wide range of perspectives. The Committee contacted a total of 5 State legislators, 11 Federal and State agency representatives, 4 educational union representatives, 16 school administrators, 23 advocacy organization representatives, 18 parents, and 5 students and urged them to attend or share the invitation to the forum with others. In addition, the Advisory Committee contacted over 15 school principals (particularly in and around the Burlington and Rutland area) to seek information on their efforts to eliminate harassment within individual schools.

Despite these efforts, the Advisory Committee noted the absence of legislators, school administrators, and union representatives at both forums. The Committee’s efforts to solicit input from these individuals continued throughout the 2-day forum as both staff and members made numerous telephone calls to confirmed panelists who did not appear at the event.

All individuals invited to the forum but who were unable to attend were given an opportunity to submit their written contribution to the Committee. In response to this request, only Michael Obuchowski, speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives, and the National Education Association of Vermont provided written responses to the Committee’s inquiry, which are presented in appendices 4 and 5, respectively.

Parents and Students

Eighteen parents and three students made statements to the Advisory Committee during the 2-day forum describing incidents of racial harassment that included racial remarks and physical assaults on minority students.[3] The panelists also called into question responses to these incidents by teachers, school administrators, and State agency representatives. Table 2.1 lists the parents and students appearing at each session.

Parents and students described in detail racial harassment incidents occurring throughout the State’s primary and secondary school system. They also raised the following issues: (1) lack of respect or empathy shown by teachers and administrators to minority student concerns, (2) the use of curriculum materials promoting racial stereotypes, (3) a presumption by teachers/administrators that minority students are involved in criminal activity, (4) unsatisfactory school-based responses to racial harassment incidents, and (5) an overall climate of racism that exists in the State. The presenters discussed methods to enhance a climate of tolerance and respect for minority students, and offered suggestions for schools on ways to establish an appreciation of cultural diversity.


TABLE 2.1
List of Parent/Student Presenters

Burlington Session

Rutland Session

Ann Borys

Mary Allen McMaster

Judith Blank

Barbara Linton

Diane Dexter

Lyndia Cobbett

Bernie Henault

Judy Adame

Jacklyn Hickerson

Judy Arnado

Jeanne Marie Schinhoffen

Maria Pelligrino

Renee Shippee

Mark Davis Jr. *

Brandon Davis *

Philip Davis *

Mark Davis Sr.

Joya Davis

Ayana Al-Faruk

Leslie McCrorey Wells

Leigh Lamphere

 

* Student


Ann Borys[4]
Safety issues, Physical assaults on minority students, Lack of respect for minority student concerns

I adopted five children, two African American, two Asian, and one Indian. My husband and I work endlessly taking care of these kids. It’s a devotion, and so we take their issues as our issues. Adopting a child is a very emotional event, and adopting outside of your race and your culture brings a whole different set of responsibilities. I am not separate from my children’s issues. I know what they’ve been through, and I tell their stories today with their permission. So I’m here to represent not just my children but all the mothers in Vermont who are raising children of color. This is an extremely difficult thing to do in our society. I can’t tell you how many hours of the day are consumed by this. I have to read, I have to study, I have to know more than the teachers of my children.

The way we have talked about it is that race is a climate. There is no such thing as someone not having a racial experience. Everybody has a racial experience. For my kids, it’s been a difficult climate. The only forum for race in our school is the bathroom, the playground, and the school bus. This is where race is discussed, this is where race is worked out, and this is where race takes on much more than just the color of one’s skin. The discussion about race is also a discussion about culture.

The race issue starts immediately when children are infants. When my boys were in day care, I saw two teachers pointing at a child who is white and saying, “Look at that boy, he’s so strong, he’s so able, etc.” They turned and said about my son, “He’s so wild, he’s so out of control, he’s so mean spirited.” These two boys were 6 months old. And I realized then how even the people who take care of the children are already beginning to feed part of this racial nonsense to them.

By the time the kids got to school I was very worried about what their experiences would be, and so I tried to find out what it’s really going to be like for them before I sent them into the pit and expected them to survive. I found the names of 10 people of color who had graduated from the school that my children would go to, and I wrote to each of them and asked them to describe their experiences. Every one of them responded and stated they hurt terribly from their experiences. I asked them what it was that they felt that they were missing, every one of them told me, “My mother never believed it was as hard as it was.”

So by the time I sent my kids to school, I was pretty scared about what was going to happen to them. Instead of waiting until something happened I talked to the teachers and told them my children will be attending this school and they will be treated as who they are.

And it started the first week in school. My kids would often have to do much more work to accomplish the same goal. This is one of the stories of race in Vermont. A child of color, to achieve the same place as everybody else, has got to do so much more to get there. I myself can’t do anything but protect my five children as best I can, but there are other children out there and even white children need to be protected from racism. It does us no good to raise up a whole State of baby bigots. We need a very different and much more inclusive program. It’s not enough to send your kids to school and demand their acceptance, and for the school to respond by making them white like all the other kids. We have to make room in our school for other people for them to be heard, accepted, liked for who they are, and begin to understand other cultures.

The main concern I have is the safety of my children. They can go to school and not learn anything, but if they come home alive, I’ve got a chance. But if they go to school and they are hurt endlessly, then the discussion that I have is always about them being hurt. My kids aren’t just going to school in grammar school or high school, they’re going to college. And I think it’s the school’s responsibility to meet me halfway to make sure that they’re ready for school. They cannot learn if they spend all their time looking after their safety.

I no longer work because of some of these things. When my daughter was in kindergarten, I went to a day care to see if it would work out for my kids, and the first question I asked was, “What is your policy for racial problems?” They claimed not to have problems. While I was talking with my children, they had a racial experience. A troubled child grabbed my daughter by her braids and smashed her head into a cement wall and said, “I’m not living in no town and going to no school with no black kids.” Now my kids were terrified and they didn’t know what to do. At that point, I come around the corner from my meeting in which everybody was telling me they have no racial problems at this child care center, and my kids wanted to go home. The next morning while combing her hair I put my hands around her head and discovered that there was blood oozing from between her braids. Well, how can you then take your child back to this day care and say, sure, try again. That was the end of working for me. Although this happened at a day care center and not in the public school, that child now goes to the same school my child goes. Recently this same child was walking up and down the hall where my kids were walking, and he would find every opportunity to harass my kids until they were terrified. I would talk to the teachers and they would say this didn’t happen on school property and we can’t do anything about it. My response is that fear exists on school property and my daughter belongs in that school, and she’s not having the same experience that the other child is having.

Lice is rampant in our schools. I got a call from the school asking me to get my daughter because they claimed she had lice. The teachers claimed she had a different kind than what they have seen before and could infect the whole school. In reality her unusual lice was not lice at all but sand from the sand box. Their reaction is so out of proportion; my daughter was isolated and terrified. The school scared all the kids about her.

Another troubled youngster began beating on my kids in kindergarten, kicking, hitting, pushing, shoving, name calling. My children’s freedom was curtailed because of the other child’s ability to strike out at each and every corner that he wanted to. I would talk to the teachers, who offered that my son could sit in front of the classroom. I want my son to be able to sit where he wants and to have the same rights that the other children have. Well, the kicking became more and more insistent and one day I found my son on his hands and knees looking through the bathroom door to check to see if it was safe to go inside without looking.

Again, everything was done to curtail my son’s freedom, not the other boy’s freedom. That child’s family made no bones about the fact that they were racists. One day my son came home with two black eyes. He was so upset that he could hardly walk. He had rings of blood inside both of his nostrils, and inside his mouth was a ring of dried blood. He told me this other child had kicked him in the hall and all the children saw this. That family is proud of its racism; in fact they send their kid to karate school. The kid goes and is being taught how to be a good fighter and has learned to use my kids as a battering ram for years now. I figured the next time my son’s going to be dead. I called up the principal and teacher who said they knew nothing about it. What happened was that the line in the class turns a corner and the kid marched backward towards my son, hit him and kicked him there, and then the class continued to go. There were other adults who claim they never saw it, but I don’t think they even looked. They all went in the classroom, and he tried to tell the teacher, “I’m having a bloody nose,” and she kept saying to him, “Now you be quiet, you’re being a real pain in the neck.” And he’s really frightened because this other boy is still in the classroom and making faces at him.

Discussion

MR. TUCKER: How many times over the last 7 years have you been before various authorities that are responsible for the school?

MS. BORYS: Oh, more than 50. I see them regularly and have spoken to the school board. I called the State Police and described our situation. I told the detective that my child had continually over all of these years been assaulted, that now it had reached a new level. The other child was much more dangerous and my kid wasn’t capable and didn’t wish to fight back. You know, my son is saying to me, what would Gandhi have done?

MR. TUCKER: You took this tack because you not only felt the schools and the community, but that the police themselves would not have paid any attention to this matter if you had said it was a child of color?

MS. BORYS: People are just not interested in the situation. They would not respond at all if I said it was about race. It was the trooper who went into the school who stated that it was about race. That was only the beginning of us being able to get help for my child and other children. It wasn’t just my kids he was beating up, he was beating up my kids first. While this business of an assault was going on with my son, I realized that part of the problem was that people really didn’t understand my kids. I tried going into the class with a dozen multicultural books and leave them for the teachers and the children. I’d go during black history month and read stories. We found that there were several problems with this whole idea of the schools being all white. One thing was the refusal of the children and teachers to call my son, Samir, his name. They wouldn’t call him his name. They’d call him all kinds of things and the kids were teasing him. They’d call him Sampson, anything that began with an S, but they wouldn’t say “Samir.” I went to the teacher and explained that he’s so proud of his name and who he is, he’s got to be called by his name. At the end of the year Samir, in frustration, brought home his report card and threw it on the table and on the back of his report card written by the teacher across the report card is: “to the boy with many S names.” At the end of the year the teacher still would not say his correct name.

Judith Blank [5]
Transracial adoption of minority children, Methods to enhance a climate of tolerance and respect for diversity

I am the parent of a daughter of color and an adoption social worker for the State of Vermont. I place children throughout the State and train adoptive parents to be as proactive for children as they can be. I want to respond to the person from the Human Rights Commission who asked for the results of one of the suits. First of all in that suit, the money was used mainly for therapy. It was not used to pay back for the insults or whatever had happened. While the suit was going on, or the investigation was going on, parents gathered in the school and said, “What can we do?” Out of the settlement a diversity committee was formed in the elementary school. A local agency got a 3-year grant, which provided us with a diversity specialist in the school 2 days a week who was available to teachers. The teachers that were interested in the beginning were teachers who were more enlightened. There are many teachers who said, “There’s no problem here.” We looked at a goal of having zero tolerance of incidents, but the philosophy of the committee in the school was to go beyond tolerance and celebrate all children.

When an incident occurred, all parents of all the children were informed. This did not happen in the past. As children of color, who were harassed, had to face the older kids and were forced to tell them how the incident hurt their feelings, as the school was desirous of helping kids who are really ignorant. When I said, “It’s not my daughter’s position in 1st grade to educate teachers and other kids on issues of religion and color,” the school started taking a more global look at the issue.

The diversity committee also addressed policies from the principal and the superintendent that they were developing, whether this was racial harassment or sexual harassment or discrimination. I think it’s important to be inclusive of all children. We have to educate all children on the issues. If I had a wish list, I would want the Department of Education to set up a program to bring in student teachers who themselves are from minority groups, because our kids are not seeing adult role models for children of color. I think some parents also have to take responsibility. In central Vermont many children of color have been adopted by white parents and many of these parents feel racism doesn’t exist. When the child comes into the public school they often are shocked and surprised and feel the school should solve all of society’s problems.

My daughter’s now in middle school for the first year. I feel like I’m back at ground one. We have to start over and build up what we had in the elementary school because we had support personnel that were focused. It wasn’t just people saying, “We have a problem,” rather it was “What can we do for a solution,” “What can we do to support the principal, teachers and staff.”

Discussion

MR. TUCKER: So you’re telling me that what went on with the elementary school did not permeate into middle school?

MS. BLANK: No, it did not. I think in the high school it’s working because there were teens who were active. The middle school, like everything else in education, just seems to get lost between the two.

DR. JOHNSON: It seems that we can ask every school what are you doing to celebrate each individual child. Could you give us some examples of your ideas?

MS. BLANK: For 4 years I went to my daughter’s classroom twice a month, and if I brought materials, it wasn’t just Indian materials. It wasn’t just adoption materials. I brought a story on chess that took place in the Orient. Things like a holiday pageant instead of a Christmas show became four little plays. One was Buddhist, one was a Hanukkah story, one was a Kwanzaa story, and one Christmas story. Kids crossed lines. The kids of color in that school did not go to Kwanzaa, they went to other activities. It’s not because you’re this you have to then teach this or be this. You should be interested in everything.

When she was in the younger elementary years, we brought cooking in from different countries. I resent being a Jewish parent that is always viewed as Ms. Hanukkah. They always say, “Hanukkah’s coming up, can you do something?” Why is it just me? Why can’t the teacher or someone else bring that up? If I’m supposed to bring the Asian-Indian culture and have my child respect herself and I’m white, then other people should be able to do things too.

Diane Dexter[6]
Efforts to assist adoptive families of minority children, Teacher and peer treatment of minority students

In my role as the adoption specialist for the State of Vermont, I see a number of children who are adopted transracially. In the past 6 years, there is a steady increase in the number of minority children adopted by Caucasian parents in Vermont. And many of them are still very young. They’re hitting 5 and 6 years of age. Every year all of the agencies in Vermont put together a conference, and in the process of this conference we realized that many parents, as their children were getting older and hitting the school systems, were not prepared to help their children deal with the school systems and with the larger population. We’ve put workshops in place, and the agencies have a screening process to help families before they adopt a child of color and begin to think what the issues are in order to help their child into adulthood as a healthy person of color.

At the adoption conference every year we bring someone in who will do hands-on training for families. I’ve received many phone calls from parents who have adopted children of color saying, “Where can I go to get my daughter’s hair cut and braided?” And these questions are very real for these families. And we now have developed resources. We’re pointing them in that direction and they are getting more educated. At the conference I spoke with adoption agency representatives and together we came up with a handbook for parents that would address this issue. As part of our licensing regulations, agencies have to sit down and give every adoptive family this information. Whether they practice it or not, is another question.

I have two African American children, and my oldest daughter is 6 years old. She entered the public school system this year for the first time. I anticipated she would have a wonderful experience. On day four of her education she didn’t want to go back! There were children in her class and outside of her class who had threatened and intimidated her and made fun of her because of the color of her skin. When my daughter came home she did not want to go back to the school. She said to me, “I feel like I’m a ghost. I feel invisible; nobody sees me.” We had a meeting with the teacher and some good things have happened. My daughter’s teacher is a wonderful young woman in her first year of teaching. I don’t think she’s had any opportunity to experience a child of color in her class or in her life. My little girl sat in the cafeteria for over 3 weeks, did not eat her lunch, and sat with the tray in front of her all by herself with her head down. She was afraid. Children had said to her, “Shut your mouth.” They used the F word to her, and she was afraid. When the teacher divided up the class for circle time, my daughter was always on the outside. She’s separating herself from the rest of the students and doesn’t want to be a part of this group. I said to the teacher, “Here’s what you can do. Be my daughter’s partner. Call her name out and hold her hand. Show your students that you value my daughter and is important to your school.” I asked the school administrator, have your teachers say, “Good morning, how are you today?” When they see my daughter walk down the hall, speak to her. There’s a lot of work that has to be done. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. I’m concerned that it will take committees doing research. You know, hey, that’s my great grandchildren you might touch. My little girl is in your public schools here in Vermont right now and I don’t know what’s happening to her. I’ve worked with the teachers; I’m working with the principal, and they seem responsive, interested, caring, and willing to do something.

Here are some of the things the school has done. They do acknowledge her every day. They are holding her hand. The principal has gone and sat with her in the cafeteria, has invited other children to come and sit with her. The 5th/6th grade class decided early in the year that they would do their study project on Africa.

Parents have to invest in the community and say to themselves, even if my child is white, I should be involved in the school and care about what’s being taught there and going on.

MR. CHENEY: The positive thing is that the other parents saw this as a problem for their kids and not just your kid. I want to know whether you had that experience too.

MS. DEXTER: Yes. I spoke with several other parents of children in my daughter’s class, and I observed some incidents on the playground where one of their children, who’s a Caucasian child, was put to the test. He had to choose between being a part of the game and playing or being my daughter’s friend. He stood there and he cried. When his parents learned of that experience, they were appalled. And they also called the school and said, “This has got to stop now and none of these children are to have this experience.”

Bernie Henault[7]
Inappropriate lesson plans, Recommendations to the State Board

Nine years ago I went to the school board meeting in Newport, Vermont, for the K through 12 system high school. I sat there and wanted to talk about special education. One of the board members in all indignation said, “Who are you to come in here and tell us what to do?” In November, a board member that had served 12 years on that board resigned, and I competed for the seat and won. I joined this school board because I saw the wreckage and saw how policies were handed out.

We do a lot behind executive session doors. You want to try to solve some of this problem in the future, then there is no executive session for racial issues. If you report it and you’ve got the guts to stand on your two feet and say to those people there’s something wrong here and I want you to correct it. I don’t want to sound offensive to more learned people, but I shouldn’t have to tell somebody with a college degree and master’s education, “Gee, do you think we ought to get a consultant in to talk about multicultural acceptance, tolerance?” No way. I am one of 15 votes. If I get seven others, then the administrators and the faculty and all other people working in the school system will do as they’re supposed to do and to not equivocate when incidents occur.

This thing of dividing, I have problems with it. I don’t like it. I was informed at different times that my attitude was wrong. What does it take in our lifetime to bring about change? All racial instances will be reported to the Department of Education. There should be no equivocation and no claiming a victim didn’t officially report it.

And we do a lot of mailings home to our families and children in Vermont. Send the law plus phone numbers home with the first mailing and do it statewide. We should say to the Board of Education members to tell school staff it’s mandatory. Simple language that can be inserted in all educators’ contracts that says: if you stand by and watch racial hatred, or bigotry or slanderous statements be made, you may be dismissed. I wonder how many school administrators would be in this room if their pay was cut 35 percent and used it for multicultural programs.

Last year when they were studying the American Revolution, they were going to hold a slave auction. We got the notice 3 days in advance. We had a few reservations because Sam, my 7-year-old granddaughter, was the only black kid in the school. So we had some concerns about her friends, who were white, and what they would do with Samantha after the auction. I told the administrators, “You need to not do this. You needed to prep all the students to say how horrendous this was, how bad it was to sell human beings to be slaves. You didn’t do that prep work.” In September of 1997 out on the playground a kid called her a nigger and said, “Niggers are bad.”

There are sample multicultural programs all around the country which could be made available to everyone. What I’m searching for in my supervisory union is a good example for K through 12. I’m going to throw it on the table and I’m going to say, “Why don’t you start at kindergarten? By the time they hit 12 if they also learn good manners, they’ll be reasonable citizens and we won’t have to yell and scream at each other.” Every single school in the State of Vermont should have Americanism 101 as part of the common core.

Jacklyn Hickerson[8]
Physical and verbal assaults on minority students, Complaint processing by school staff and the Human Rights Commission

I have two biracial children in the public schools. My daughter’s been in the school system 2 years; my son just entered 1st grade. It’s hard to condense what’s been happening to them into a speech because its something that has been a very horrible experience for my children, and it is difficult to try to communicate it to you with the same effect.

Racial harassment in all its forms, including taunts, repeated use of the N word, as well as physical assaults, have been the norm rather than the exception during my children’s school career. Last year the problem got worse. Nearly on a daily basis my daughter was called the N word, was punched, kicked, and spat at. To make matters worse, one of the perpetrators was the daughter of a school board member. I have called a school official several times and would get no help whatsoever. This person would not acknowledge what was going on. She would say to me, “He has a cousin who’s black, so I don’t think he’s doing that. He couldn’t be a racist.”

I had a parent meeting with a school board member. She told me I was overreacting because I wanted a meeting with her because her daughter was calling my daughter the N word. I have very serious concerns that people like this are raising children like that and are in power over our schools.

This year already my daughter has experienced incidents; the N word has been used as well as other derogatory terms. She has been punched. I brought these incidents to the attention of the school staff. My complaints have gone unanswered and I go forward. Also because of my complaints, I think my child is being treated differently. Whenever there is a problem in the classroom, my child is the one to be blamed. When she tries to give her side of the story the school official continually asks her, “Are you sure you’re telling the truth?” and drilling her repeatedly when she’s the one coming home with bruises. She’s never taken at her word. She’s made out to be a liar. She is allowed to be abused. I have tried to call officials at the school system, but they don’t return my calls and my complaints go unanswered.

During this school year an incident occurred while my daughter was in art class. A white child sitting next to her scribbled all over her school work. In retaliation, my daughter took a marker and scribbled on his arm. That child got no punishment whatsoever. However, my daughter was not only put into detention, she was barred from the school dance. The other child admitted to starting the incident, but my child was the one to get punished whereas the white child was not. When I went to the school and talked to the teacher she told me, “Oh, well, that’s just how I feel, that’s my opinion.” I talked to the school official who backed up the teacher. I was totally outraged.

Also this year I requested an IEP meeting because my daughter is not receiving the services that she’s supposed to. The meeting was scheduled by the special education staff person for 3:00 on October 13th. When I showed up for this meeting, the staff person told me that the meeting was set for 2:00 and the teachers and everyone else had left. She then proceeded to tell me the reason my daughter was not getting the services she needs is because they are short staffed and there is not enough money. She stated that my requesting an assistant for my daughter would take an assistant away from someone else’s child. Three weeks after this meeting, I finally got the notice of the meeting in the mail. It was her handwriting, signed by her, and scheduled for 3:00. I called her up and asked, “Why have you denied me this?” She responded, “What do you want me to say?” Responses like that make me wonder what is going on. The school receives money for these services and they’re not being given. Is it because of their lack of interest in my child as an IEP student or their lack of interest in my child as a student of color? I believe it’s because she’s a student of color. My child has been kicked around in this school system too much, and I have told my story many times. I have gone to the forums, I have repeated this stuff, and each time it’s a new and different incident. The old ones keep getting lost in the jumble. When is somebody going to do something about this?

There is a case that has been pending for over a year now with the Human Rights Commission. They have not been able to make any decision. That is one I have not told you of. The incident happened at the beginning of last year.

Discussion

MR. CHENEY: Have you made them aware of these issues?

MS. HICKERSON: One of them, yes. When it came to my daughter getting the suspension and the barring from the school dance, I did. And it is currently under investigation. You call them every single day. They’re very busy. I would like to see something happen without having to wait for the Human Rights Commission because it’s already been over a year and this was a major issue that I have a case on. I also have a first grader in the school system that’s been taunted on the playground, but no physical violence yet. But he’s only been in school 2 months. I think it is important that we do go public with this. I feel like I’ve been shouting my head off since I moved here. And since my children have been in school, it’s gone nowhere.

MR. TUCKER: Since the U.S. Department of Education conducted a PAR review of the school system you are referring to, have you seen any movement around your two children as a result of that and has the school system followed any of the things that were outlined in the review?

MS. HICKERSON: None whatsoever. They have not followed that.

MR. HOFF: Do you know if other children of color in that school system had similar experiences?

MS. HICKERSON: I’m sure they have. I don’t want to speak for the parents of those children, but how could they not? I assume that every child of color is getting some type of harassment because I’ve seen it. This issue has been kicked aside for so long but I can tell you, I know that children are being harassed. If this forum was not at the Sheraton and there was transportation, you’d have a line out the door.

Jeanne Marie Schinhofen [9]
Lack of respect for minority student concerns,
Inappropriate lesson plans, Response by administrators to requests by parents

I think there’s an incredible lack of respect from the teachers to the students. When the administration and staff communicate to the children, they are first and foremost communicating this lack of respect. In one incident, my son was sent to the school planning room. He wrote three pages on exactly what happened. I will read an excerpt from his writings:

“The teacher was pushing me down the hall, she was pulling at my shirt and pushing me and forcing me to go; however, of course she called it guiding. I don’t understand why they have to call you and check up on everything that I say. They’re telling me that I’m a liar just by doing that.”

Perhaps the administration needs to verify some of this information with a parent; however, he is treated as though they don’t believe him. When he approaches me with these problems, I have a meeting with the administrators to help the situation. I am educating the teacher on how to educate my children.

I need to add respect in capital letters. I have had student teachers and other parents that have helped out in the classroom come to me and say, “There’s something going on in the classroom. All of the other eight children in the group are doing this, but your child was singled out and punished for this behavior.” I’ve had calls from parents of students that have come home crying because one of my children is being mistreated in class consistently. Although the children come home and tell their parents, I may not find out this information for a year. I’m wondering what has happened to this particular child that he can’t come home and say, “Mom, I’m being mistreated.” He has been mistreated so much he doesn’t know what’s right and doesn’t know to come home and say, “They have wronged me.”

Once a teacher was trying to set up a hierarchy in the classroom. She was the queen and students were different levels of servants. I explained to her that my child deals with this on a daily basis. Of course he doesn’t want to have anything to do with this—he lives this. You’re putting it to these children because maybe some of these children haven’t experienced this. You don’t understand what you’re saying to my child.

We were talking about these children feeling invisible. For 4 years I have been asking the administration to please put the children of color together in the classroom. Finally, when my child was in a class of 40, there were 4 children of color. None of them were in his grade, but because it was a combined class, he happened to be put together with these children. He came home on the first day of school excited and stated, “I’ve got three other African American children in my class. I really don’t even care if they are my friends, they’re just there. It means on the one day of the year when we celebrate Martin Luther King or a little bit of black history, everybody isn’t looking at me.” There’s somebody else to share that burden with. The administration denied purposely putting these children together.

I was asked the other day if I work at the school, because I’m walking the hallways. I’m in a position where I’m ready to quit my job because I can barely hold onto it. We had a principal there that was an ally. I had asked him to allow my children to have access to me and let them call me at work or at home if something’s bothering them. They did this many times. We had a teacher last year who came to me and said, “I want to do the rest of the year dealing with diversity on some level; can you help me?”

Discussion

MR. TUCKER: What school are we talking about?

MS. SCHINHOFEN: Twinfield Union in Plainfield, Marshfield. I personally have not gone beyond the administration because I knew it was useless. I felt that my energy was best put into approaching each of the teachers when my child was in their class. I would do my best to educate them, explain my child to them. I have gone to the administration and asked them, “Please, on one of these teacher in-service days, can you please focus on having the teachers educated?” They’re ignorant here; can you please help to educate them?” There’s no funding for that. I feel as though the diversity that we do get, the teachers aren’t truly there in their hearts. Whenever they get something that is diverse, it’s not brought into the school in other ways.

When I took my child to the 1st grade the teacher informed me in the first week that there was no racism in this school. She said I had nothing to worry about when I was concerned that my child wasn’t going to be safe there. I looked around and there were no posters, no books, there was nothing. I now have a teacher for my daughter who has spent a good portion of her budget this year on things that would encompass her in the classroom. I do know that I’m being heard. It’s on such a small level that it’s hard not to be bitter. It’s hard not to be totally frustrated, but I do it for my children.

DR. JOHNSON: Is there something that the parents can do to educate themselves about how to deal with the school? Can parents get funding for some kind of strategy on how to be a parent of an ethnic minority student in Vermont that describes what parents and students will encounter? I don’t know if you communicate with one another.

MS. STOLEROFF: We are in contact. A group in our community formed a diversity group. What’s so wonderful about our community is it acts as a community. There are many people in the community that care about these issues, yet it’s hard to get the school to change and use the community as a resource.

Reene Shippe [10]
Reactions by teachers to verbal assaults of minority students

My two children and I live in Morrisville, Vermont. People of color are coming out of the inner cities because they want their children to have a safe environment. I needed a safe environment and a better education for my children, and I felt I would have it here. I look at that sign many times and it says, welcome to Vermont. I want to add—but it’s not for the people of color, and if you do stay, you will be harassed and will experience racism. No matter whether you’re hiding, whether you want to be a productive citizen or not, you will experience it here.

Here in Vermont the selectmen are not open for change. If we as people of color, as a community, as parents, as educators, if something is going wrong with our children and if we are experiencing racism, harassment, then there’s a way to stop it: deliver a message to the politicians that we will not vote for you until the harassment and racism stops. For every incident in your district, you lose money.

My 14-year-old daughter had a very hard time. She was called the N word. They wanted to fight. She really didn’t want to fight, but when somebody walked up to her and slapped her, she felt she had to. Teachers, principal turned their back; they didn’t see a thing. And it was good because I wasn’t waiting for her to be suspended.

When my 12-year-old son was called that, he used diplomacy. He went into the principal’s office and he sat down and he talked about it. He couldn’t understand it because he’s been programmed Vermont’s way. Not that he accepts being called the N word, but he accepts the Vermont culture. He took it to another level and asked to have a meeting with the principal, and he did. The principal ironed it out with him and shoved it underneath the table. She asked that the person that called him this name do a paper on what an N word person was and asked that their parents be involved in this.

You’re always talking about children, but you have to hit the base. The base is home. Parents have their issues which are heard by these children in school. I suggest that you confront the parents first. When there’s an incident, you call in the parent of the perpetrator and describe the incident. The child did not just pick up the N word from out of the sky.

Mark Jr.; Brandon, and Philip Davis[11]
Incidents of racial harassment, Reactions of teachers to minority student concerns

MARK DAVIS JR.: I am 17 and currently attend a high school in Vermont. I’m sure I know a lot of you are aware of some of the problems I’ve encountered at the high school. First of all, I’ll start with the school officials. Every day they make it obvious that they don’t want me in school, they don’t want me anywhere in the city, including the football coach who told my brother that I wasn’t welcome to play on the team. Every day he gives me nasty looks when I’m walking through the hall. To me it’s pretty obvious they’re retaliating because of the civil rights suit I filed against them in ‘95. We moved out of State in July of last year. Since we arrived back in Vermont, in January 1997, my life has been pure misery while I attend school there. I experience harassment every day. I can’t even concentrate on school work. I’m doing pretty good so far. And I feel like the school is trying to get to my father through me. Just walking through the hall I can hear the N word from kids. Kids will stare at me and give me nasty looks. I can’t walk through the hall without the principal asking where I’m going, why I’m in the hall, etc. The superintendent will see me every once in a while in the hall. He’ll give me a dirty look but doesn’t speak to me.

Recently my mother reminded my father that we couldn’t attend a football game at school because of the no trespass order against him. And I was already mad that I couldn’t play in the game, and I became more angry for now I couldn’t even watch it.

MR. TUCKER: Were you told that you could not play football?

BRANDON DAVIS (Age 12): Yes. The head coach of the football team, I asked him if my brother was welcome to play for the team because he still wanted to play, and he said that he wasn’t welcome. It was obviously an excuse because he didn’t want him to play.

MR. CHENEY: Why couldn’t you play in the game?

MARK DAVIS JR.: The coach didn’t want me on the team. He didn’t give a reason; he just said I wasn’t welcome.

MR. TUCKER: You’re in the middle school. So he told your brother in middle school that you weren’t welcome to play on the high school football team? What’s your average?

MARK DAVIS JR.: B.

MR. TUCKER: So it’s not because of your marks?

MARK DAVIS JR.: No.

MR. TUCKER: Even if you pass, you can’t play. Is that what you were told?

MARK DAVIS JR.: Yes.

PHILIP DAVIS (Age 14): When I was in 5th grade, I was assaulted by a teacher. When I tried to report it, nobody believed me even though two other students came forward and said they saw the teacher do it. My parents tried to tell a school official what happened. They mentioned filing a complaint with the Department of Justice. The school official assaulted my mom with the door. When I was in the middle school, kids made fun of me all the time because I was in special education. They would get me in trouble all the time and the principal would always blame me. My parents would be asked to come to the school every time no matter how small the problem.

MR. TUCKER: How would you describe your experience in the school system?

BRANDON DAVIS: In Washington State we had a lot of black teachers and a lot of friends that were like us, and here they just aren’t, and they basically just make us feel uncomfortable because we’re different. And they just don’t want us here for some reason. I’d rather be in Seattle right now.

MARK DAVIS JR.: I feel the same way. In Washington State I had black teachers and pretty much all my friends were black. The school was a happy atmosphere. I could walk through the hall and teachers and kids would say hi to me. They made you feel like we were part of the community out there. Here we’re away from everybody. It wasn’t like that here in Vermont.

MR. TUCKER: Did you participate in sports in Washington State?

MARK DAVIS JR.: I was playing varsity football.

MR. TUCKER: But you can’t play it in Vermont.

BRANDON DAVIS: My teachers used to suggest which books I should read or write a report on. They were always usually about African Americans. During one of my classes we were talking about slavery and the teacher said, “Brandon, don’t you feel so lucky that you didn’t live during those days.” And all of the kids just stared at me the same way when we talk about something about African Americans. And one day the principal said to me that if I miss another day of school, that she would have a truant officer on me to talk to me. And I guess that she didn’t like me or something for whatever reason, that’s why she said that. And I’m in the middle school now, and the principal, the counselor, and some of the teachers make me feel uncomfortable because they know that I’m Mark’s brother and Mark Sr.’s son. The principal and the vice principal are usually just the same way to my mother as to me.

Joya and Mark Davis Sr. [12]

JOYA DAVIS: Whenever there’s a problem with one of the kids, I’m the one they call. They feel that because I’m white, they can deal with me since I’m going to understand the problem they are having with my child. I’ve had the principal say to whatever adult was present, “Oh, you can talk to her, she knows.”

MARK DAVIS SR.: I’m thankful of this Committee being here and having the opportunity, like other parents, to let you know what our children go through and what we expect to be a part of our kids’ education. This isn’t just Burlington that’s a problem. There’s a problem in other parts of Vermont. The type of mentality you’re dealing with is one of intimidation for speaking out.

You have seen the letter my wife sent you regarding the boy saying something to my son and I called the school. I didn’t make a threat or anything. It’s really sad that it’s that easy for a parent to call a school and to try to have a conversation about the conduct of another student and they can completely take what they feel I said and misguide it and have the police charge you with something that you never even said.

Currently I have a no trespassing charge on me prohibiting me from entering school grounds, because of a football coach that perceived that my words were threatening. How can one perceive threatening when you call somebody and ask to discuss my concerns about one other student using filthy language to my child? I don’t think that’s threatening whatsoever. The proof is right here in the letter that the school sent me. What bothers me is that the assistant principal, principal, superintendent, didn’t have the decency to spell out the word that this student said.

Discussion

MR. TUCKER: Were you given a hearing about this no trespass warning?

MR. DAVIS SR.: No. They served it by certified mail. This was the second trespassing charge against me.

MR. TUCKER: What you’re saying to me is that an arm of the law served you with a notice that said you were not allowed on school grounds, but you never had a hearing?

MR. DAVIS SR.: Yes. The letter says you may not enter on school property except to pick up and drop off your sons, and you must stay in your vehicle at all times.

MR. TUCKER: When’s the last time Mark Jr. participated in any sports in Vermont? Did he play ball?

MRS. DAVIS: About 9 seconds.

MR. TUCKER: So he hasn’t been allowed to play since he’s been at the high school, but he made varsity in Seattle where the competition is really hard.

MR. DAVIS SR.: In Seattle he played with some of kids that now are in the top 10 colleges in the Nation. I’m hurt for my son because this is about retaliation. This summer we were driving by, and we drove up onto the school and I said to Brandon, “Go down to the football field and ask the coach is Mark welcome to play.” And this particular coach told Brandon, no, he wasn’t welcome. The reason why is because we’ve got too many kids as it is. And that was it.

MRS. DAVIS: In April of 1996 they issued him a no trespass then, which didn’t even allow him to drop or pick up the kids and prohibited him from school property. We were told by the police that it expires a year later. When we moved back here, it had been over a year, so I called up the school and I asked if it was still in force. And they said, no. Bygones were bygones and everything was all set. And this letter is dated the very next day. It’s disturbing the fact we didn’t say or do anything wrong. I did what any parent would do, which is call up and let them know I had some concerns about another student’s language. I think the best bet is this: Leave Vermont. We are desperately trying to leave as soon as we can and never return. If we were to stay here, I’d ask the mayor of Burlington if we would be welcomed in his city. We’ve only lived in one location in Vermont and we have always had problems there. Now when my son went down to the football field this summer, spoke with the coach and the players, the atmosphere was just so normal. The coach and kids were extremely nice to us.

I was talking to the investigator at the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights who’s going to be handling the retaliation complaint that we filed, and he just couldn’t seem to get off the subject. He kept asking me if my husband was big because I guess when the people were here from the Office of Civil Rights, they went back and told them my husband is a big guy. He kept bringing it up. Finally, I said to him, “Do you mind if I ask you what your race is?” He told me that he was white. I said, “What you keep asking me makes sense to me now.” Ever since I got married that’s been his biggest problem. Because he’s big and black, he’s a threat to people. I question how can these people help us if they’ve never met us and just talk to me on the phone.

Ayana Al-Faruk [13]
Existence of racism in public schools, Racial slurs directed at minority students

I want to thank the Advisory Committee for coming; however, I have mixed feelings. The fact that you have to come is quite insulting to me. The fact that we’re still dredging this issue is very insulting. In 1997 African Americans and other people of color are still having to beg for what the Constitution said every American had, and that’s inalienable rights, and peace and justice for all. That’s still not true when it comes to people of color.

Listening to prior speakers has me very disturbed about what’s going on with children of color in schools. You say that you have heard comments that made you realize that racism is alive and well in Vermont schools. Yes, it’s very much alive and well, and I am not particularly sure that the school districts are willing to admit how alive and well it is. Or if they even understand that racism is entrenched in the school system here. It’s been my experience that when you challenge people on it they oftentimes don’t even know what you’re talking about. It makes me realize that they’re so entrenched in it that they don’t even understand it. And to me that’s more dangerous than someone who’s being racist straight out. I don’t think that the people who are being racist realize that racism affects everybody. It just doesn’t affect the children of color. Ultimately it’s going to affect this entire country. In the 21st and 22nd century, we’re not going to be where we need to be because we’re so busy trying to keep other people down.

I have four sons that go to school in Burlington. The first day in school, girls were throwing their phone numbers at them which really unnerved them because they haven’t experienced that before. It was as if the girls tried to make them not human, putting them into an alien kind of category, exoticizing them. I don’t think people realize that doing that is totally racist.

I have a 16-year-old son who attended Edmunds Middle School. He had the experience of going to a track meet last May or June at U-32 High School in Montpelier. And as he was getting ready for a run, there were two or three high school students milling around. One of his teammates heard someone call him a nigger, and she said, “Muji, I think he just called you a name.” What he had said to my son was, “run, nigger, run.” After that the entire Edmunds Middle School track team went to their coach to tell him what had just happened. The coach, in turn, went to an administrator at U-32 who came out to my son and challenged him like he was the perpetrator. My son told her that she needed to get her facts straight and find out exactly who was the victim and who was the perpetrator. U-32 ultimately made the boys write letters of apology, which were not sincere. The school ultimately wrote a letter of apology to Edmunds Middle School. What I’m saying is that this can happen so easily because it’s gone on so long unchecked.

I think that the Burlington school system and Vermont generally likes to pride itself on being liberal and progressive. Being progressive, however, does not mean anti-racist. My question is how do you treat African Americans and other people of color in the school system? What I want to know is how my children are going to be treated, and I’m not happy with how they have been treated already.

The white community is very invested in maintaining their children’s emotional well-being. But these are the same people who do racist things to African American kids. What about their emotional well-being? I don’t think the school systems see that as a priority.

Leslie McCrorey Wells [14]
Use of curriculum materials promoting racial stereotypes

I have a 9-year-old daughter. Several weeks ago she approached me with a book that she was to read for her 4th grade reading class. She asked me just to read the back cover. She said it didn’t sit well with her because of the way that it talked about, quote “the Indian and how this young white boy and his grandmother were trying desperately to escape from him by taking a raft down river.” I praised her for noticing the negative images and for bringing it to my attention.

After reading the first two chapters, I spoke with my daughter’s teacher to ask what she hoped the children would gain from this book they were reading, a book that I perceived as extremely racist. She informed me that they were doing a unit on Native Americans and that the aim of this particular book was to get the children to understand the American grit of the boy and his grandmother. After a brief discussion, she told me that if the children don’t bring up the issue of the negative images, she would in their discussions.

I finished reading the book and realized that the image of the Indian remained constant throughout the book with phrases such as, “they got animal noses, they can smell you out” and “there is never just one Indian,” and “you don’t see them until it’s too late” and then culminating in a final chapter which depicted how seven Indians were caught after they burned out and murdered several of the good white settlers. Needless to say, there wasn’t any other message in the book except that Native Americans were savages.

The following letter was sent to the school by my daughter’s father:

I am writing in regard to the curriculum in my daughter’s reading class, specifically the book in which the class is now required to read, Trouble River, by Betsy Byars. I find the depiction of Native Americans quite troubling indeed. Describing Native Americans as savages with animal noses perpetuates stereotypic lies, and the presentation of their culture as solely bent on the stalking and murder of white women and children is reprehensible. The Native American culture is so rich and so fulfilling, how could anyone stand by and let their children read such lies? It is to my daughter’s credit that she was able to recognize these stereotypes for what they were and bring it to our attention. Leslie and I have discussed the issue and are in agreement that if the book is to be read in class, [our daughter] will be allowed to leave the room and read a book in the learning center. While Leslie and I do not and should not have control over the curriculum, I urge the faculty to be critical thinkers and to constantly re-evaluate the curriculum. A book written in 1969 should be carefully evaluated for stereotypic and racist depictions regardless of how many awards it has received. At any age, people are inclined to believe what is written in books, but young readers are particularly susceptible. It is up to the educators to evaluate the reading material carefully so that harmful stereotypes are not perpetuated through yet another generation.

This letter prompted a meeting with the principal and the teacher. I was particularly disheartened with the meeting, but the most significant part for me was when my daughter’s teacher told me that she was embarrassed for having missed the stereotypes. But she had realized that it was because she doesn’t notice stereotypes. Now I’m not here to say this is a bad person; I am saying that she is a part of an institution that is not fit to teach my child or any of our children. I am fully aware that she does not stand alone.

This is a perfect example of the American educational system. I am here to say that this type of education is absolutely unacceptable. When a 9-year-old stands alone not only identifying but articulating the stereotypes within the literature that has been endorsed and legitimized by her teacher, then I say this is unacceptable and the educational system and society that allow it to continue are morally and ethically vacant.

It is unacceptable that I have to choose between taking my child out of a class and risk her feeling that she did something wrong or leaving her in a class with a teacher that doesn’t recognize the existence of a problem with depicting Native Americans as savages. The book is still being read in the class.

For those who read this report, I urge you to please develop a sense of urgency about racism within our schools. All of our children are being diminished. If you are in a position to receive this report, you are most likely in a position to do something about it. You have an obligation to all children to be a catalyst for change. Don’t allow the legacy that parents of children of color have had to pass on to each generation continue, the legacy of picking our children up at 2:30 and attempting to repair the damage that has been done to them during their school day. Racism is not a problem or an issue; it’s a way of life.

Leigh Lamphere [15]
Systemwide approach to curriculum selection

I’m a public school teacher and the parent of two biracial sons who go to the school where I teach. One is in kindergarten and one is in 1st grade. As a family we haven’t personally encountered strong acts of racial harassment, so it would be easy to say that that term doesn’t apply to my family and children, but I think it does.

Last year my son was standing in the hallway at People’s Academy in Morrisville; he’s a kindergartner, and the kindergarten is housed in the high school. A junior high school girl walked by and spit her gum in his face. Was that racial harassment? It felt like it. There wasn’t any exchange of words. It’s sometimes hard to know if that was a racially motivated act or just pure crassness and stupidity.

I’d like to speak about the lack of an enlightened approach in the school curriculum. I teach music in the school where my sons go, and I’m careful to bring a lot of music from a lot of different cultures. As far as the rest of the curriculum goes, it disturbs me that it is primarily my sons’ kindergarten and first grade classrooms that have picture books with children of color. The reason they have these materials is because I’ve provided them for those teachers. It disturbs me that if you happen to get the right teacher and it’s February, black history month, you might get to learn about Rosa Parks or maybe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and maybe not if you’re in other classrooms. That’s probably the most that you’re ever going to learn about the civil rights movement. When you get to 6th grade, you’re going to learn a little bit about the Civil War and you’re going to talk about slavery, but you won’t talk about the real issues.

We don’t have a national or statewide curriculum. I don’t want to have to be the one that provides that education for my children exclusively, because it’s not just my children that need that education. And I don’t want to have to enlighten every teacher that my children are going to have and provide books in the classroom so that children are exposed to all the things that they should be exposed to. I would like to know that my children and all of the children in my school are going to get a comprehensive education which is not strictly Eurocentric.

It’s November and so we’re going into a unit on Native Americans, and you might be in the classroom where the teacher actually calls the Native American a Native American instead of Indian, but you’re going to sit around and make headdresses and pretend that you’re in a powwow. What little bit is touched on in the curriculum is very often sort of tokenism or a kind of tourist approach. I respect my colleagues and I don’t feel that most of them are blatantly racist. I think that they don’t really get it; they don’t understand. They say, “But in February we talked about Rosa Parks,” and they just don’t get that that’s all that they did and that’s all that my children will ever know about their heritage.

Discussion

MR. CHENEY: Do you know if there’s been any systematic review of the curriculum at People’s Academy with a view to this?

MS. LAMPHERE: I’m certain that there has not. I’m at the elementary school, but I can speak for our school, absolutely not.

MR. CHENEY: The textbooks that are in your school, are they all of the type you described where it’s pretty much all white?

MS. LAMPHERE: No. You’re not going to buy a language arts book that doesn’t have cartoon pictures of people of all different races. Is African American history or any people of colors’ history really talked about in the schools? Not really.

Mary Allen McMaster [16]
Teachers, staff, and administrators modeling unequal treatment toward minority students

I teach African history at Castleton State College. I came to Vermont in 1988 because I thought it would be a good place to raise a child. I didn’t realize that I was making the biggest mistake of my life. Within the first day my child was already in danger. When my son walked up to get the mail, he noticed that the next door neighbor’s post and holder for newspaper had fallen into the road. He tried to repair the box because he thought it could cause an accident. A man in a truck pulled over, opened the right-hand door screaming at him jumping to the conclusion that he was a vandal. The swinging door caused my little boy to have to throw himself into the ditch to keep from being hit.

The first time my son walked down the hall at Castleton Elementary School, a child reached over and knuckled his hair. That was the beginning, and it never stopped. After a week at Castleton my son had really changed his identity because in preschool in California he came home one day saying, “You know, Mom, there’s so much talk about black and white. But look at me, I’m not black. I’m certainly not pink like you. Would beige be a good way to describe me?” After a week at Castleton he was black, and I think this was extremely healthy. He chose to identify himself as black because the other students were brutalizing him for being black. I knew of another little boy around 5 or 6 years of age who came home before the end of his first week and screamed at his mother, “I’m not African, I’m not black; I’m white, you’re not my mother, and I hate you.”

In the 3rd grade at Castleton Elementary School, my son came home and said after one day of school, “They won’t keep their hands off me.” I went to the principal and I pointed out that the psychologically sound way was to empower him to allow him to raise his voice in the hallway so that a teacher could overhear him saying, “Get your hands off me.” They told me he would be punished for raising his voice and that he was to sneak when nobody was looking and tell a teacher what had happened. I said, “I’m not going to have you turn my child into an informer.” So they instituted a policy whereby both students were considered equally responsible whenever there was physical contact. When another boy wrapped his legs around my son’s legs, my son was the one punished.

Within a few weeks I was going in regularly to see what was happening in the schools, and at lunch there were probably 150 2nd and 3rd graders. They were allowed to talk, so there was sort of a gentle roar. All of a sudden the teacher in charge of the lunchroom descended on my child grabbing him and shaking him and shrieking, “You’re the cause of all the noise.” Every kid in that school knew it was illegal for her to lay hands on him, so every student was shown the rules don’t apply. You have a problem and you can work it out on the dark kid, and that’s exactly the message that is coming down from the highest quarters.

It’s not only emotionally exhausting for these students, it becomes physically dangerous. It’s the comfort level of the teachers, the employees, the administrators in the school system. If my son were retarded, they would be very comfortable with him. They would be very gently patronizing, but at Castleton Elementary School it became apparent probably within the first week that he was the brightest kid in the school, and that’s what the problem is. The abuse was systematic and pervasive. They tried to lower his performance to the level of their racist comfort. I took him out of Fair Haven High School in November of 1994, and he started his senior year in a high school last September outside the State.

Discussion

MR. HOFF: Did he have any friends?

MS. McMASTER: He was very popular his first year at Fair Haven. In his freshman year, I made the mistake of going to a counselor and explaining that because the verbal abuse was so pervasive, my son’s way of dealing with it was to take a day off now and then. And I suggested they tell his teachers that his absences are not frivolous, explain that it is due to the racial harassment, and to do some consciousness raising so that teachers and administrators will be on the lookout because he cannot and will not implicate the perpetrators. I learned from one of the teachers that the counselor told his teachers that he had psychological problems.

MR. CHENEY: You described this discipline policy that’s so obviously unfair that the victim gets the same treatment as the perpetrator, but did you try to pursue that with the authorities?

MS. McMASTER: My son made me promise that I would not do anything to make it impossible for him to continue in school. I spent part of every day week after week with this principal. And when my son was punished equally, I just came and had lunch with him every day. I got an ally in the school counselor so that when my son would come home in a rage because of something that had happened, the school counselor would go and check it out. Before my son entered the 4th grade in 1989, I told the principal he could either do what was sensible, look at my son’s test scores, look at his grades, watch him on the athletic field, or take the easy way out and promote him or you can put him in that room with the woman who attacked him savagely. This principal had a habit of refusing to speak to me. I once sat for half an hour after asking him a question; he just sat there. And a week later I got a call saying, well, he could have a 6-week trial in the 5th grade and then never heard anything else about it. One day my son came home and was fused with rage. It seemed that in phys-ed there was a game where the teacher was supposed to throw the ball underhanded. Instead, he threw it overhand at his head. So I went to my next door neighbor who was the counselor at the school and checked it out. He said, “You’re absolutely right.” And when asked why he said, “Oh, well, your son is so physically gifted I have to challenge him.” The other phys-ed teacher had found another way to challenge him, and this would make him a pariah because kids are very competitive. It was a team sport, and whatever team my son was on, if it was ahead, the teacher would come in on the other side. So whatever team my son was on was never allowed to win.

MR. CHENEY: We’ve heard testimony regarding the futility of making complaints, but some people know the Human Rights Commission exists, actually had some good results. Did you try to complain to the Attorney General?

MS. McMASTER: My son made me promise not to do any of this, and then he just one day said, “All right, mom, take me out.” He explained that a student who has had severe learning problems, who had been mainstreamed at Fair Haven High School because he was a good football player, would harass him. I asked, “How often does this happen?” He explained that every single day that he has been at school that year, the student would come over, sit down, grab what food he wants off my son’s tray, throw garbage and then say, “Dump it, slave.” The last day my son was there, the assistant principal was present while this football player went through this routine. The assistant principal just sat there talking with the football player while this was happening. It was at that point, my son said, “It’s over.”

RABBI KITTY: Was your son ever assaulted on the way to or from school ?

MS. McMASTER: The school bus stops at our driveway, and regularly she would go by and leave him. She could see him before she made her turn back up in the driveway, but if he weren’t standing at the edge of the road, she would speed up. He had to be very careful on the school bus because if somebody grabbed him there, he could have been off the bus.

MS. SAUDEK: Did your son participate in school sports?

MS. McMASTER: Yes. And I was really stunned when I saw that coaches would rather lose than play him. My son spent a lot of time perfecting his soccer skills. He was the second or third best soccer player on the 9th grade team at Fair Haven. When it came time to substitute a player, the young coach of the team could not leave the black kid in and he took him out and, of course, the goal was scored right where my son had kept this area covered. I realized, my God, this young man doesn’t know why he couldn’t honor my son by saying he’s one of the top eight or ten players on the field. You had to take him out and degrade him even if it meant losing the game.

The week before I took my son out of Fair Haven, parents of three other students came to me and said, “You must get him out, he’s in physical danger.” One person’s daughter saw my son pinned against a corridor wall by five or six larger students who were fronting him. Of course, if he reached out to try to push his way out, he would have been guilty of making contact. The girl very quickly walked over, took my son’s hand and led him away from the other students. When she later came home, she was almost hysterical. She said that her mother was one of the people that came and said, “You must get him out.”

MR. TUCKER: A lot of people called the Human Rights Commission and are told you can file a complaint but there’s a big backlog. They’re not very encouraging about taking legitimate complaints. A number of us are looking for alternatives, and one is to just take a class action suit against the State.

MS. McMASTER: May I say I think that’s the only thing that’s going to work unless we get the United States Attorney General to send Federal investigators in.

MR. TUCKER: This is one of numerous complaints that you will hear from Afro-Americans and other groups who want to use that office only to be told there is a big backlog. So that’s already setting up a climate of “We don’t want to hear this and we don’t want to respond.” I don’t know how I could be a State official or a person in office and not be appalled.

MS. McMASTER: I think they’re selling the citizens of this State short. What we have here is a conspiracy of silence. I know a number of people who will give you testimony if their names are never published. The Office of Civil Rights enforcement of the Vermont Attorney General has not enforced the law. As a matter of fact, when I called wanting to know when this meeting was and its location and time, I had a call waiting for me yesterday saying they couldn’t tell me.

Barbara Linton [17]
Racial harassment incidents throughout primary and secondary school system, Investigations by Human Rights Commission

I’m in an interracial marriage and have two children, Sheila Marie, who is 19 and out of high school, and a son, David Andrew, who is 22. We’ve lived in Vermont for more than 20 years, and my children attended schools in southern Vermont. My children were in the school system from 1984 to 1996.

One of the things I was hoping when I first moved here was that I wouldn’t have to have another generation of black children growing up with prejudice and bigotry always at their shoulder. We have five generations of black men and women in my family who have faced prejudice in everyday life such as someone following us in a store because they think that something is going to get stolen, or attending a school function and having some little kid call you Aunt Jemima and nigger. The violence and the verbiage no doubt followed my kids back to the house. It was very difficult at times for my husband and I to deal with what was just them and what was really happening to them. My son’s experience was a little bit harder, not to say that hers wasn’t. Hers, being a second child, I knew a little bit better about how to protect her and how to be in the classroom ahead of the teacher.

My son has dysgraphia and some reading problems. When he was in 1st grade, he had a teacher who kept telling me that he had a behavioral problem. The teacher kept labeling him as disobedient and disruptive. So I went to this teacher and asked to have my son tested; however, she disagreed and thought he was merely disruptive and disobedient.

MR. CHENEY: I’ve heard from other witnesses that, like your son, said that he was disruptive or disobedient and that somehow the kid deserves what he’s getting from the other kids because he’s that kind of a kid and the school tended to blame him rather than seeing that maybe he’s disruptive or disobedient because of things that are being done to him. Do you see that kind of scenario going on?

MS. LINTON: It’s true, but you have to understand we’re talking about white adults who want to keep the status quo, and the only way that they’re going to be able to do that, either through color, race, or economic lines, is to separate our people and our children.

We used to have to walk our children back and forth to school because they used to get beat up on the way home. One day my sister went in to pick up my son and apparently one of the students had said a racial epithet to him. My sister immediately told the teachers that they shouldn’t have corrected the child. Later I received a call from an administrator who told me that my sister’s banned from the school because she was violent. Rather than cause problems, my sister stood outside. They were so indignant at the fact that there would be a black aunt or mother who would actually say to a white child, “Don’t do this.”

MR. TUCKER: They didn’t like being confronted. What would they consider someone who is black that confronts them?

MS. LINTON: Violent. So every day I was up there in my son’s classroom making sure that his teacher did her job. And I was told that I wanted special privileges for my children. I never asked for it, never got it, but nevertheless, people think I got special privileges. There were a lot of children and parents in Brattleboro who suffered in silence. I know of approximately 50 parents of color who had children in school who were being harassed over the years, but it’s more now than before because Brattleboro is an exploding population of children of color.

In 1994 the Inuits came to my children’s school to raise money for a dam being built in Quebec. My children were on a panel of students who were hosting them as guests. They were taking them into the gym to have a cultural talk about what was happening in relationship to these indigenous people. The white children expected these people to have teepees and wearing war paint. It got so bad that the people left and all the children went back to their classrooms. There was not one teacher or counselor who apologized to those people. It was left up to the children of color (my daughter and my son) who stood up for them in that gym.

MR. TUCKER: In your travels through the community in ‘96 and ‘97, what have you heard parents of color talking about? Is it on the grapevine that there’s still problems in the Brattleboro school?

MS. LINTON: Yes. Most definitely. There are racial harassment policies in effect now, but from what I understand, they are not enforced. There are still incidents that are happening to children that people try to explain away.

MR. TUCKER: When you say “explain away,” what do you mean?

MS. LINTON: When two kids are fighting, the only child that gets taken away by the police is the black child to court to face assault. But what’s so sad about it is these teachers are still teaching and they’re still doing the same thing to other kids that they did to my son and daughter. When my son was in the 3rd grade he came home one day and said, “Ma, cut my hair.” Every day this child was in distress. One day his teacher was telling him that he was going to take a lawn mower to his head unless he cut his hair. And so this poor child was in such emotional distress. And he said, “The kids in the classroom make fun of me all the time because the teacher says that and then they repeat it.” So I called the teacher up and he admitted saying it but claimed it was a joke. I told him that when you joke with an 8 year old and tell him to destroy a part of what his heritage is, how can you have those white boys and girls teasing and laughing at him in your class? Later he told me since the principal was away that day I was not allowed in the school anymore. I called a couple of friends of mine, made a couple of signs, and stood in front of that school all day. I had about 10–15 people standing in front talking about racism. And I had the teacher’s name plastered all over those placards. The school did not fire the teacher, so we picketed again the next week.An 8-year-old boy who comes home hysterical because he thinks he’s going to lose what is his biological heritage, his hair. He can’t do anything about his facial features, his skin color, or his hair. That is his heritage, that is who he is, and for somebody who believes he’s not of color to say that he’s going to destroy—that meant that he was trying to destroy my son.

Now I’m going to tell you my son is going to be 23 in March 1998. This man has never apologized to my son for what he did to him. When he met him again when he was dean of students at the high school, he tried to mess with my son then, but my son was older and able to defend himself. He couldn’t say the same things to my son that he could say to him when he was 8. We just made sure that he didn’t have anything to do with my son, didn’t teach in any classes my son was taking, or have any decision power over my son.

DR. JOHNSON: You mentioned that several parents ask you, “Barbara, what should I do?” Is it useful to do something in a written form so that parents can have ideas about strategies of what to do regarding teachers? Your son helped teach you for your daughter, but there are many parents who are going into this for the first time. How can we help more parents be stronger in dealing with the school?

MS. LINTON: Take that law into every school district and sit down with the superintendent and all the principals. Command them to come to a meeting and then invite parents. If this Committee went to every school district and offered to take the complaints back to Federal authorities, we could initiate a class action suit on behalf of all the students of color in Vermont. This would make them do what they need to do. What would really help would be if this Committee were to issue a Federal mandate that the State of Vermont and its school districts do not receive money until they clear up these problems they’re having.

There’s so much injustice and there’s so much grief and pain children are being scarred every day. And there’s nothing that can be done to help those parents in that way. If we’re talking about parents being more politically active in their school district, I think that parents already are because they’re speaking up. It’s not a question that they don’t know how to do it or won’t do it; it’s because they feel it would be of no use.

DR. HAND: You spoke about your protest and how it seemed to have little negative impact on it. I’m interested in what the systemic reaction was. Obviously, the system promoted this man.

MS. LINTON: By the time he was dean of students, my children were almost out of high school. We were embroiled in a bitter case with the Human Rights Commission and were trying to settle issues of discrimination and racism in the district. So his becoming dean of students was not on my priority list other than keeping him away from my children. But he’s still dean of students.

RABBI KITTY: When you called around to your friends to protest, was it only black families that came to your aid or did you find that you had more general community support?

MS. LINTON: I have friends in the community who will do things at the drop of a hat and are not afraid to do it. Some are afraid to do that.

RABBI KITTY: My question was to gather a sense of how alone or how supported you felt in the community. There’s a sense that parents of black children are alone, that no matter where you go you’re stymied because no one will support you in supporting the law.

MS. LINTON: Nobody. That’s true. It still exists like that today. My son’s physical education teacher once claimed that my son was insubordinate and tried to have him suspended. They were playing tennis and my son hit the ball and it went out. Now he didn’t hit it purposely, but the teacher said, “Okay, I want you to go out there and get it.” He didn’t send anyone else outside the gate to get balls, but he told my son to get it. My son was old enough to tell him, “If you want those balls, you’re going to have to go get them.” Every time he was in gym he would make a comment about how he wasn’t doing something or claimed he didn’t have coordination. I think they take a look at him and know he’s one strong black man, one more, and they don’t want to have that. They want to destroy his life, to take his sense of self-esteem, and destroy the very essence of who he is by making him less than a person in the eyes of his peers and other adults regardless of what color they may be. These people shouldn’t be teaching anymore. They should lose their jobs.

The counselor that my son reported all his feelings to in private admitted that my son wasn’t the only one. One particular teacher liked to pick on children who were overweight, children who were of color, children who had disabilities. You name it, he was abusive. And all these children were coming to this particular counselor and telling him. I urged this counselor to report this to the principal and superintendent. “You’re trying to put words in my mouth,” was the first thing that he said to me. I said, “Do you realize what you’re doing? You’re telling me that you’re hearing that these children are being abused, that these children are reporting to the school doctor what’s happening to them, their parents are telling you, I’m telling you.” This man is still teaching. This man is still being complained about in the newspaper as of a month ago regarding this abuse.

MR. TUCKER: You’re saying that 8 years ago he received complaints from you and 8 years later he’s still being complained about in the newspapers?

MS. LINTON: Right. And others.

MR. DIAMOND: Do you perceive white parents who had children of color as being treated the same way you were treated and in your judgment had any more success in dealing with the school administrative structure?

MS. LINTON: I don’t think so. I think people are just as bold to white women and white men who have children of color. They’re perceived as parents of black children and children of color.

MS. SAUDEK: From news stories I’ve seen and heard, I have the sense that black kids in this State have even more difficulties when they participate in interscholastic sports. Did your kids participate in sports?

MS. LINTON: Yes. There might have been some incidents, but their teammates usually took care of it quickly, and they had good coaches. I can’t address what’s happening in other parts of the State where there might be more isolation of students of color. My son and daughter were integrated in the school system for a long time until they reached junior high and high school, and then there were more students of color.

There have been hundreds of incidents that I have reported to the Human Rights Commission. Two incidents I will describe happened to my daughter:

While in the 7th or 8th grade, they had elections for class presidents. Everybody would give a speech before the class and then students would vote. And they had the right to make up flyers and post their positions in school. My daughter did that, but then when she came back to school none of her posters were up. Everyone else’s posters were up, not hers. This happened for a couple days in a row until she caught a kid taking them down. And he said to her, “You’re not going to get elected; niggers don’t get elected anyway.” Needless to say that my daughter was not elected, nor was there a student of color elected that year. But because of the continuing effort, the next year a student of color was elected. White students have their own little cliques. They leave students of color out of simple things such as voting on class presidents, choosing the king and queen at the prom, etc., because they’re not the image that they wish to present.

Also in 7th grade or 8th grade, my daughter had a substitute for art class, and the rule was that if you needed to go to the bathroom, you took a tag off the wall and went downstairs to the bathroom. And because I frequently go into the school, I noticed kids walking the corridors, going back and forth to the bathroom, and peeking into other classrooms and saying hello to their friends. Well, my daughter just happened to do it that particular day and she asked the substitute if she could use the bathroom, and she proceeded downstairs to the bathroom. All of a sudden the substitute teacher is screaming at the top of her lungs for my daughter to come back. The principal hears a teacher calling my daughter’s name. He wanted her to go back upstairs and answer her teacher. He stood in front of her and grabbed her and tried to stop her and force her to go back upstairs. She had to run from that principal (who’s still principal of that school) out the front door, around the back of the school, with him and another teacher chasing her so she could go to the bathroom on the other side of the building, urinating in her pants in the process. I received a phone call from the principal who claimed my daughter was insubordinate, and that he was going to suspend her. In the 10 minutes it took me to get to that school, they had the assistant superintendent and a police officer there to deal with me. When my daughter came home the next day she had bruises on her arm where he put his hands on her. Nothing happened to this man nor to the teacher who chased her and violated her privacy.

All the times that my children were walking back and forth to grade school and junior high school, all the times that students used to follow them home, call them every kind of racial epithet in the book, throw stones and rocks at them, physically beat them, tear their clothes off their bodies not one police officer could ever get to that school to get those children who were in those classrooms who were doing it. No one could ever knock on these parents’ doors. No one understood the meaning of racism. And these people are still teaching these children.

MS. ELMER: You’ve mentioned a number of times you filed complaints with the Human Rights Commission. Was that an effective system for you?

MS. LINTON: Sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes you can get a phone call and people straighten themselves out, but for the most part, no. It’s very hard to prove and they can always explain something away. It wasn’t right what happened to her, it was a misunderstanding, but nobody could explain away those bruises.

MS. ELMER: What recommendations can you make to the Human Rights Commission or other State agencies?

MS. LINTON: Teachers who do this should be fired immediately and something placed permanently on their record if they want to be able to work in another school district again in the State.

My son had an art class when he was 12 or 13 and there were 15 to 17 kids in that class. And the teacher purported herself to being a woman who understood diversity. And there were three boys in this class who used to taunt my son on a daily basis by calling him a monkey, telling him that his eyes looked like girls, or his hair looked like he had put his hands in sockets, or push him around. So my son exploded in class one day and beat them up. The principal and the teacher who said she didn’t hear anything had my son taken out of the school and down to the police station. No administrator called me and told me that’s what happened to my son. My son was in the police station for 2˝ hours. They had charged him with aggravated assault, disorderly conduct, assault on a police officer, etc. The State’s Attorney wanted to take my son out of my home, put him in a juvenile facility as a—behavioral problem. My son’s lawyer went to the district court and argued that this was a racial attack. All of a sudden everything went away, the assault on the police officer, the aggravated assault on three kids. And they said, “Well, your son was a little aggressive. We’ll just give him disorderly conduct and he can go to diversion for that so that he can manage his anger.” And I asked, “What happens to the other students involved?” Nothing. So if it wasn’t for the fact that I was his mother, my son would have had a police record and removed from my home as a juvenile offender, for what? because he didn’t want to be called monkey or nigger, have his facial features be made fun of, or jeered and taunted in the classroom?

MR. CHENEY: Did the Human Rights Commission get involved in that case?

MS. LINTON: Yes. They did find sufficient grounds regarding the incident. On that particular case the school settled. The Human Rights Commission filed a court case, and the school district had to face the fact that there was racial harassment and that what they did was wrong.

There are just too many incidents. I can’t tell you the numerous times that my husband and I had to sit down as a family and try to figure out how we were going to keep our children safe and to make sure that when they got older they could walk to school together with their friends. Maybe two or three times a week I walked into that school. I couldn’t sit in the cafeteria without some 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grader calling me, “Nigger, Aunt Jemima, jigaboo,” or walk on the playground without some kid throwing a rock at me. When my children got to be in 6th grade, kids from the junior high school and high school used to come down, and when the children of color were outside playing they used to be along the fence saying that they were going to get him. I had one kid that I had to chase with a baseball bat out of my doorway where he had followed my son home and was beating him. The Human Rights Commission was faithful enough to take the report and investigate, but for the most part they did not find grounds to support the charge.

MR. TUCKER: Have you had any instances where you filed with the Human Rights Commission or with the Attorney General’s Office for Civil Rights that were not pursued?

MS. LINTON: I can’t tell you how many. Every week my children were in school I filed with the Human Rights Commission.

MR. TUCKER: I would like to have some estimate. Would you say 20 times in your life that you filed over 20 reports with the Human Rights Commission? And how many were acted upon?

MS. LINTON: More than 20 reports were filed. One was acted upon.

MS. SAUDEK: The others were investigated?

MS. LINTON: They were. I’m not saying that they didn’t investigate and make phone calls. There were some complaints that they didn’t follow up on because they were not sufficient grounds for them to be able to act. Then there were others when they did not find sufficient evidence of discrimination. There was only one that they acted on and settled with the school district.

In one case when my daughter was in junior high school, a female art teacher put her hands on her and threw her up against the wall. I sued her myself because no lawyer and the Human Rights wouldn’t take the case.

MR. TUCKER: You’re telling me that you had evidence that a teacher abused your child physically and that the Human Rights Commission didn’t take it?

MS. LINTON: That’s right.

MR. TUCKER: The State Commission on Civil Rights didn’t act on this either?

MS. LINTON: No.

MR. TUCKER: When you exhausted those, did you go to any government agency?

MS. LINTON: I called Boston, the Office of Civil Rights and Department of Education and they didn’t act on it.

MR. TUCKER: And you sued?

MS. LINTON: Yes. I filed the case in Newfane Superior Court and claimed a violation of the State Civil Rights Act and Public Accommodations Law.

MR. TUCKER: What happened with the case? What did they decide?

MS. LINTON: Nothing happened with the case. They didn’t find for my daughter.

 Lyndia Cobbett [18]
Climate of racism in the State, Actions by administrators in response to racial harassment incidents

I’m from a biracial relationship, and I have two school-aged children, one of whom attends Rutland High School. Mr. Herrington [see presentation below] is the decent side of what these people aren’t. His summation of what Rutland schools are like is a fallacy. None of these people serve in the interest of our children. We have to go there and act belligerent and defend our children for the little sick things that we know shouldn’t be in schools.

Recently my daughter was chased by a group of those people reported to be gang members. My daughter is picked on. She’s having blatant things said to her such as slut, whore, etc.

Discussion

MR. TUCKER: Are you saying your daughter is picked on in school and the school has done nothing about it?

MS. COBBETT: They didn’t. I thought the guy escalated the situation. He had tried to make my daughter responsible for what other kids would say, all the instigators, the kids in the school that knew this girl was after my daughter, make my daughter responsible for whatever the hearsay was coming from these other students. In other words, my daughter had no choice but to keep quiet. We discussed yesterday, “Why didn’t you go to the principal?” She didn’t want to be a snitch. This is what I’ve been telling her to do, go to the principal. Let them resolve it.

This is going on right under her teacher’s nose, and she’s worried about what the other students are going say. My daughter’s refusing to go to the appropriate people to let them know about it simply because she doesn’t want her peers to think that and make the situation worse by that girl getting more ammo and her allies calling my daughter a snitch and having to go to the police and others just to defend herself.

I think all of it is racially motivated and comes from within the community. We’re just being a family picked on. And they’re doing it through a child, and they’re using this child to try to bring conflict on a family. They’re using my daughter as another way of showing they don’t want us in their community. They use these children to interfere. A lot of white kids, you ask them, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” and they respond they are going to college. They are so certain and confident in what their life passage is going to be, they have this extra time to hinder our children’s education.

MR. TUCKER: You think what happens is the white kids have the privilege of treating these kids this way because they’re so secure in what they’re going to do?

MS. COBBETT: They’re confident either way they’re going to pass.

MR. TUCKER: No matter what they do, nobody is going to do anything to them?

MS. COBBETT: Nobody.

MR. CHENEY: Do you know of other incidents of this kind where the parents do not want to come forward?

MS. COBBETT: They were run out of town, and that’s why they’re trying to do it to me. We’re not wanted in the town. These are tactics used to discourage us from living here.

Judy Adame [19]
Presumptions by teachers/administrators that minority students are involved in criminal activity

I have a son who is 16, and he does not go to school anymore because he feels that the racism is so bad in the school system that he refuses to go. I’m from California. I moved here in 1995. My son was labeled a gang member because of his different ethnic colors. When he would hang around with his friends who were of different ethnic backgrounds, people would consider the group as a gang.

My son often wears baggy pants. In 1995, when my son was 15, he was walking to class and a school official accused him of having drugs in his pants. They literally strip searched him in school. They took his backpack and searched everything on his person, his pants, his shirts, his shoes, took everything apart. They also accused him of selling or doing drugs in the school system. I contacted an attorney and scheduled several meetings with the principal at the school and, coincidentally, every time the meeting came, he canceled at the last minute for some reason or another.

Discussion

MR. TUCKER: Did you report this to the Human Rights Commission?

MS. ADAME: No. I didn’t know who to go to. I was just trying to help my son and reinforce him in the conferences.

MR. TUCKER: Since part of the racial harassment policy is to inform parties of agencies that are available to them, did anyone in that school say anything to you about that?

MS. ADAME: No. I went to the school the next day because my son came home. I was not even called to be there when he was searched if they wanted to search him. I believe his constitutional rights were violated because he was not given the option to refuse to be searched. When my son came home, he was very depressed. During the evening he discussed it with me, and I was appalled. And I said, “I’m going to school with you first thing in the morning,” and I did. I voiced my opinion. I told school officials they were being very racist. I said in essence, “He hasn’t even been here very long and you’re already accusing him of being a gang member, a drug pusher. And I’m very appalled that you searched him without my permission and did not notify me first or give me an opportunity to be present while he was searched or even hire an attorney to defend him if he even had something on him.” Ever since that day he has not liked school, refuses to attend, and wants to move out of this State. We’re constantly having conflicts in my family now because of the difficulty with the school system. They think anybody who is of a different racial background is bringing drugs into the community and belongs to gangs. There once was an article in the newspaper which reported that every nonwhite person register with the police department when they move into Rutland.

The other thing I wanted to add is his expression to me is he felt the staff was very discouraging toward him and very prejudiced toward him in relation with them thinking that he’s a gang member. They did not have much verbal contact with him or help him in his goals in completing his subjects. And he felt uncomfortable. A staff person mentioned to me that while at a meeting with school officials, other staff seemed very prejudiced toward my son for some reason. The person said that she understands now why Richard was cutting school and getting frustrated and discouraged because he’s getting taunted in the hall with looks and namecalling by the teachers.

Judy Arnado [20]
Incidents of verbal and physical assault and response by teachers

I am a parent of a 16-year-old son and a 23-year-old daughter. My son currently is enrolled in the Mill River school district. When my daughter attended school in this district, for a full year she was spit on, her lunches were smashed, and her books were knocked over. We had phone calls all night long. She was called a Filipino whore. One night we had to unplug our phone because it wouldn’t stop ringing. The teachers and students ignored the problem. A young man approached her and frightened her so bad that she thought she was going to be hurt, and she defended herself. She begged me not to say anything because nobody would do anything.

When my son got to high school, I came home one day and found him standing in our yard with tears running down his face. And I asked him what was wrong, and he said, “They’re calling me Oreo and they’re calling me nigger.” He was in chorus, and they were kicking the chair when he stood up into the back of his legs. He asked me to sell my house and move because he didn’t want to go to school. He didn’t go to school for about 3 days.

I have brought my children up to be very proud of their national origin. My son doesn’t even want to play football this year because of the racial names. So it doesn’t start in middle or high school. It starts when these children are born with their parents teaching them colorblindness. I’ve talked to the school and they just sweep it under the rug. I contacted the school and I was told on several occasions, “Oh, it won’t happen again.” The parents of these children would be horrified if they knew what was happening. But these children certainly knew what they were doing.

Discussion

MR. TUCKER: How many times in the last year have you spoken to the school administration about your son?

MS. ARNADO: A couple of times this year. Three or four times last year. These kids have known him all his life, but they still call him these names. And he won’t fight back because he knows you’re not supposed to fight in school. He doesn’t like to go to school; he doesn’t do well. My daughter spent a whole year in just terrible pain and fear. She was afraid of the boy who frightened her. So it exists in the schools, and a lot of schools have policies about ethnic diversity at Mill River, but it’s superficial. They sweep it under the rug and try to ignore it.

MS. ELMER: Are the policies written in a way that could be used to your benefit?

MS. ARNADO: I doubt that that would happen. If I speak to anybody at all, it’s to a vice principal or something and they’re very pacifying on the surface, but nothing gets done afterwards.

MS. ELMER: So they’re polite to you?

MS. ARNADO: Oh, definitely, but that’s about it.

Maria Pelligrino [21]
Racial slurs against minority students, Minority students’ fear of reprisal

I’m from Puerto Rico and my husband is a Vermonter. Last week I had the privilege to meet a wonderful family that had to leave Vermont. They were very hurt because since their son came to Fair Haven High School they right away said that he was a gang member.

And I want you to know that there is a lot of racism in school. My kids were called names and being humiliated for so many years. When my son first came from Puerto Rico, he went to the elementary school and they were teaching history and they started saying that Puerto Rico’s houses were all shacks and they were built from CocaCola signs. My son tried to say that that was not true, and the teacher started humiliating him in front of the class. I told my husband about it, and like a typical Vermonter he said to just ignore it. And all these years my kids have complained to my husband about the name callings. They’ve been calling them spics and all kinds of things in school. And I tried to tell them just to ignore it. But at the beginning of this year at Fair Haven High School, my son said that another student would stand in the middle of the stairway every single day when he’s going to go to school and let everybody pass except when it’s my son’s turn to go upstairs he holds him back. The student runs in front of my son telling him he is going to be last because he is Hispanic. Finally, one day he told me, “I’m going to punch him. I just can’t stand it anymore. He’s no better than me.” I said, “Don’t do it; talk to somebody instead.” He said, “Why am I going to talk to somebody? They know what’s going on. They really don’t care.” I know there’s at least one teacher that does care, but a lot of the teachers just ignore it. Last year things got really bad. One student used to write racist remarks about blacks, Hispanics, and all people that are nonwhite. He also said that he wanted to be like Hitler.

Last year one of the kids who they had a lot of problems with because he doesn’t like Hispanics or blacks or nobody was expelled from school, but he’s back this year. And my kids are afraid that one of these days he is going to explode. These kids brainwash other kids to believe what they believe. And they see our kids like intruders and ask, “Why do they have to come to Vermont?” I try to teach my kids to respect other cultures and to respect others. A lot of people don’t want to admit that there’s a problem. And they say that they like the way Vermont is and people who don’t like it should leave. There is another kid that graduated last year that called my daughter all kinds of dirty names. She was always nervous and complaining. She was crying a lot and didn’t want to go to school. And this year she wanted to move back to Puerto Rico. I can’t stand it.

I know that this is going to continue and if somebody doesn’t do something about it, other new kids will be going through the same thing.

Summary

Parents articulated common themes of racial harassment. They referred to instances of physical assault and racial slurs committed against minority students, pointing out that some of these were tolerated or ignored by teachers and staff. As a result, parents believed that some Vermont schools had unsafe learning environments and caused minority children to fear entering school and participating in school activities. Parents identified difficulty working with administrators and teachers over issues of race and felt there was a lack of respect and sensitivity to minority student concerns. Parents claimed that teachers and administrators are prone to assume that minority students were the cause of illegal activity or disruptive behavior. According to the parents, inappropriate teaching methods and curriculum materials also contribute to promoting racial stereotypes and a climate of intolerance.

Parents recommended that the State take appropriate action to identify and prevent racial harassment incidents, assist school districts to recruit minority teachers who can serve as role models in the classroom, and actively investigate each school’s compliance with the State Anti-Harassment in Education law. They also added that teacher training be conducted to help administrators, teachers, and staff develop an understanding and commitment for diversity.

Teachers, School Administrators, and Support Personnel

Six teachers, school administrators, and paraprofessionals shared their perspectives on the overall racial climate in Vermont public schools and solutions for improving school climate. The panelists offered examples of teaching methods that promote racial stereotypes, ways to foster teacher responsibility and accountability for safe learning environments, and tools to improve school curriculum.


TABLE 2.2
List of Teachers,
School Administrators, and Support Personnel

Presenter

 

Debra Stoleroff

teacher

Michael Henderson

teacher

Mary Jane Marchelewicz

paraprofessional/educator

Leigh Pfenning

principal, North Avenue Christian School

Carol Ode

chair, Burlington School Board; member of the State Board of Education

Bill Herrington

counselor, Rutland Middle School


Debra Stoleroff [22]
Pervasive racial harassment in the school setting, Stereotype-promoting teaching methods, Labeling of students with emotional, physical, or learning disabilities, Solutions for improving school climate

I’m an educator and have taught in three different school systems in Vermont. I have lived in Vermont since 1973, having previously taught in schools in east Harlem, New York. Since entering the public school system in Vermont, I’ve seen more racism and harassment than I ever saw in any New York City school. In New York I was in a very wonderful alternative school in east Harlem. We taught diversity training every day and it made a difference. I can say that there is a lot of harassment that goes on in Vermont schools, and it’s not only towards African American children, it’s also directed to Native American students, and children who are of different religions or just of different backgrounds.

Racial or ethnic harassment on the part of students, administrators, and educators and staff within schools is for the most part subconscious and, therefore, embedded in the culture of the school. Teachers do not pick out one culture as better than another, but when they teach about another culture they often do a short unit which only skims the surface and serves to strengthen stereotypes. For example, in teaching general Native American culture, the fact that there are hundreds of different native cultures in the U.S. is ignored. This creates stereotypes. When teaching about Native Americans, the focus is on a time that does not look at the present culture or question why the culture has evolved as it has. This also creates stereotypes. Done with the best intentions, teachers often focus on romanticized parts of the culture. Other students study general Native American culture from the point of view of westward expansion, which by its very nature looks upon Indians as heathens. In trying to create neat hands-on activities, artifacts are presented as crafts rather than having the spiritual significance that helped to define the culture. Similarly, black history is often taught 1 week in the year around Martin Luther King Day. Students celebrate the sufferings of slaves and jump to the civil rights movement and stop there. They are not taught to question what has or has not changed since that time. This type of study helps maintain the notion of “other” because we study the time as an object rather than as a living reality.

Many children feel the effects of ethnic discrimination around holiday time. One school in which I taught had a lovely tradition of having the staff gather at the doorway of the school on the last day before Christmas vacation and sing Christmas carols to the students as they came from the buses. Most children loved the serenade, but the message for the Jewish, Muslim, African American children who celebrated Kwanzaa, and children of other religions was that they were less important, not deserving, and second class. I had a Jewish child in my class who was constantly asking, “Are you Jewish? I can’t believe it.” I was someone he could identify as being like him. He found this comforting. Not a peep was made about Hanukkah or other holidays at that school or celebrated at that time of year.

In an attempt to celebrate diversity at another school, I and another colleague developed a celebration to enable us to celebrate all holidays whose major symbol is light, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. We also studied the movement of the earth and the moon in the solar system; teaching students about the cycles of light and dark on earth. We did this as a result of wanting to broaden our students’ perspective of the world, not because we wanted to teach religion. The culmination of this month-long unit was a craft day in which many parents came to offer workshops on making candles, lanterns, lip balm, moon cookies, etc. At the end of the day we would sing songs about the movement of the earth and taking care of the earth. The students would offer thoughts about the earth. We would sit in a circle, and talk about our environmental awareness. It was a very successful program; kids and parents loved it. After the end of our third year of doing this a parent who did not have a child in any of our classes complained to the school board that we were teaching paganism.

I’m not here to talk about general discrimination problems, but I think that racism and harassment due to disabilities overlap. In one of the schools in which I taught it was my experience that some African American, East Indian, and Asian children had learning or emotional disabilities. Because they had problems within the classroom and because they stuck out ethnically, they were labeled by teachers. Teachers are role models for paraeducators and children. Once a child gets labeled by adults who unconsciously let their feelings be known, the children who are not as subtle as adults translate this into harassment and start calling others discriminatory names.

Children who are labeled because they have emotional, physical, learning disabilities and happen not to be Caucasian often interpret and translate messages internally such as “I’m bad because I am black, Asian, etc.” For example, one time I walked into my office and happened to be going by a supply closet and there was this child sitting there and fretting. And I turned to him and I said, “What are you doing in this closet?” He said, “Well, they put me here.” He went on to describe that he had gotten in trouble in his classroom and was sent to the office. The office in the school, which has many problems with discipline, couldn’t deal with him and put him in the closet to wait. Eventually I took the kid out of the closet and took him with me. He was not in my class, but for years after that he would try to come to be in my classroom when he was having problems with another teacher. I tried to talk to the teacher to let him be in a place where he felt safe. Obviously I was overstepping boundaries on the part of other teachers, and at the same time I felt I was justified in helping this child. If he felt safe in my classroom, I would somehow provide that space for him. You can imagine the harassment that I got from the teachers as a result of doing this.

Solutions:

1.Celebration of Diversity. We need to celebrate diversity. It needs to be part of daily life in the classroom. It needs to go beyond teaching about African American history and Native American cultures. You need to celebrate the ethnic heritage of all children, not just of one type of child. It’s about respect and a belief that all humans have at least one strength upon which they can build their future. But most of all, it’s about modeling respectful behavior toward all people. In the classroom this translates to the need to celebrate the heritage and abilities of every child. We need to feel comfortable about respectfully calling ourselves, students, colleagues, parents, etc., on moments when we are subconsciously being racist.

2. Multicultural Learning Materials, Cultural Leaders, and Diversity Specialists. At a minimum, we need to have multicultural books in all classrooms. Our schools, teachers, and administrators need to be of diverse backgrounds. The leaders of diverse cultures are not here in Vermont. We need to see them. We need to help schools, administrators understand the complexities of the various forms of discrimination and how they reinforce each other. There needs to be diversity specialists within every school system. There need to be examples for learning opportunities within the standards. Someone said that it needs to be in the core curriculum. It is in the core curriculum. It’s there in the vital results. There are civic and social standards, but they’re not addressed. There’s nothing to keep schools accountable to this area.

3. Assessments. One of my jobs right now is to conduct research on assessments for the Vermont Curriculum Consortium and Assessment Task Force. I’ve been looking all over for the assessments for this area. They’re not there. We need to make them up. And we need to hold the schools accountable. I think we need to go through with the lawsuits that were mentioned earlier in the hearing, because then discrimination becomes public. We do a disservice to keep it under the table.

Discussion

MR. TUCKER: How many places do you know that offer courses on institutional racism?

MS. STOLEROFF: There are very few. Systemically, we don’t address the issue.

MR. TUCKER: We don’t address it from an institutional viewpoint. I’m concerned because I think that multicultural people like yourself who don’t get to address the issue that really is systemic within the workplace, schools, and our lives is so deeply borne into the American culture that all of us play out our roles because we’re born into that, and institutions are so systemic that we don’t deal with it. And so we hide that under diversity. We never address it. We talk about multiculturalism, we talk about ethnicity, we talk about everything, but we do not talk about systemic and institutional racism.

MS. STOLEROFF: One of the ways we need to address it is systemically from the bottom starting with the kids. I’ve worked with children from 22 months to 22 years old. I have had a gamut of kids that I’ve worked with, and I know you can get children at day care level talking to each other, learning how to say, “You hurt me, this hurt my feelings,” having a teacher there so that they feel safe that they can talk to each other and figure out what wasn’t okay, having somebody be there to help them mediate problems. I’ve been successful at creating this type of environment within my classroom and having kids feel empowered at all levels. In fact, when students come in from the playground where there has been some sort of instance that has disturbed them and can’t figure out, they often ask me what to do. You take them at the very moment and ask the students who have been involved in the situation to go figure it out, let them go and scream at each other and discuss their feelings. It took some time to teach them how to do this. If they couldn’t come to a resolution, the class suspended their work and we sat down as a class to figure out what was a way to help these two people solve their problems. The expectation was that our classroom was a community and we need to respect each other, work out our disagreements so that we could learn together. One time when a 4th grade boy had been called all sorts of names because he played with a doll, we sat down as a class. We talked about “isms.” Where do you learn them? As a class we made a chart and the kids spent the rest of the year coming in daily and listing “isms” they had noticed. The listed what ism it was and where they learned it.

I think one of the underlying causes of any harassment is low self-esteem. We should boost kids’ egos for whatever reason so that they don’t feel like they have to harass somebody else to boost their ego. In a class where there are many different kids with many different strengths you can at some point gently, if not overtly, let a kid know what their strength is and call on that kid to help other children use their strengths so they look to collaborate with each other.

Michael Henderson [23]
Teacher accountability

I would like to focus my presentation on teacher accountability. We should ask how do you get people to choose to do things differently. It’s the reason we have in-service days for teachers. I’ve done some workshops at different schools, and the primary reaction we’ve gotten is a denial of the problem and the need for improvement. That attitude is reflected in the teacher’s stance, in their body language, and the way they shuffle children in and out of workshops.

The reason I’m focusing on the schools is I believe that the schools need to be safe. The reason I’m focusing on the teachers is because they’re people, they’re parents, they’re Vermonters. We’ve heard about what Vermonters are like in some ways in terms of being isolated. And I focus on the teachers because as people they are keeping the same standards going. It seems that once they get their curriculum in place, they’re not moving forward. For example, we had the book Little Black Sambo still on a teacher’s shelf in school. She was asked to remove it by one parent, and I think part of the reason that there was a confrontation there was perhaps the dynamic between the parent and the teacher. I think the teacher knew that the time and place for that book should have been gone a long time ago.

So you ask about possibilities for change. We’ve been asked by teachers to bring in multicultural books. I would like to see more books in the library. Basically you find people who are very stuck, people who want to change, and people who are open.

In my particular school, the librarian is a very open person, but I’m not sure that all the teachers within that school are following her and availing themselves to the work that she’s doing to make these books available. I’m not sure how you can legislate a teacher so that he or she wants to be the best possible person that they can, which in turn makes them the best possible teacher they could be.

So you have a wide range of dynamics in the school that we’ve seen. My wife and I have a very hands-on approach. We basically go knock on doors when we have a problem with another parent or another child, and basically I approach the problem from the standpoint of “our children have a problem.” I’m sure you and I as parents always go in with that as an assumed idea and want to help our children resolve their differences. I’m oftentimes talking about the parents and their ideals when in reality we have to believe we’re addressing the children’s problems. One suggestion I learned of came from a friend who is an educator and a camp director. He often takes groups of his friends out to plays, movies, etc. His feeling is that we’ll all have a common dialogue by having common experiences. And perhaps that was one way if you can get the teachers to have common experiences, either through plays or art.

Discussion

DR. JOHNSON: Do you have suggestions regarding how can we get at encouraging each school to celebrate each child? If one does that, it not only picks up the minority child, but it picks up every child.

MR. HENDERSON: I think any time you show appreciation in someone you’re valuing that person. The problem stems from who’s making the judgment of what’s to be appreciated. Any time that you can acknowledge a child and make them feel wonderful for being distinctly who they are, you’re doing great wonders.

Mary Jane Marchelewicz [24]
Treatment of minority teachers by other professionals

I am a paraprofessional and educator in the South Burlington school district. The reason I’m here is because I see things going on with all kinds of kids at different age levels in a middle school environment.

I had an African American friend who was an educator at the high school. A year before she knew she was leaving the area she quit her job at the school. She was a strong, tall, positive, and dynamic woman who could not stand how she was treated by the staff at the school she had been working at for 4 years. She was not greeted in the halls. She would go into the business office or the high school office and get no response. There were very few people on the whole staff that would even say hi to her in the halls. So we lost her. The kids were furious when they lost her.

When she was here, one of the first things she did when she first moved to Vermont was go to an educational conference in the Burlington area. At lunchtime she went into the large dining hall and she didn’t know anyone, but she was the only African American there at the time. She saw this table that had a few empty seats, and she went over and sat down and said, “Is it okay if I join you?” and they said, “Yes.” And every single seat in that lunchroom filled, and there was an empty seat on either side of my friend. The last person that came into the dining hall sat next to my friend and sat with her back to her. Nobody spoke with this adult woman at a luncheon of educators. It is no wonder a little 5 or 6 year old is insecure in our school systems, because this is how the educators act.

There are tests, there are exams. You have to pass the board to be a lawyer, you have to pass your CPA exam to be an accountant, but anybody can be a teacher. Sometimes wanting to be isn’t enough, and perhaps we need to look at who is going into education and what is in their heart and what they plan on doing.

We had another African American family in my community, and their kids were in the school system with me. The 13-year-old boy was hit by a car on his bike in his middle-class white neighborhood, and the vehicle did not stop. His younger brother told me the story. Of course, this black family felt that it was because of the color of their skin that this vehicle didn’t stop, and nothing you could say to them would change that. So I went to one of his team teachers and explained the situation. I asked his teachers to take it easy on him because his brother got hit by a car and is having a hard time. And the teacher said, “He doesn’t think it’s because he’s black, does he?” And I said, “Doesn’t matter. If that’s your reaction, why shouldn’t he think it’s because he’s black?”

The parents that presented their stories to the Advisory Committee asked, “What can they do?” I’ve been on the superintendent’s Multicultural Diversity Committee for 4 years. It was started partly because there were hate letters written to black and Jewish kids in their lockers at school. The parents were outraged and gathered and wanted something to be done. And my friend that had been shunned at the luncheon and was shunned by her coworkers, myself, and several other people served on this committee. We were there for 4 years and met once a month. It has more or less folded. We started a committee, but the superintendent didn’t really like how that committee was heading, so he said he was going to have a Multicultural Diversity Committee meeting. My friend has moved away, and the rest of us were just plain tired of feeling like we were accomplishing nothing, spending all this time so that it could be said that the community had this kind of committee which was a mere rubber stamp for the district.

What bothers me is that if the University of Vermont becomes involved in the problem and offers to provide diversity training, the school system will make the training mandatory and you’re going to have those that respond, “What do I have to do that goddamn course for?” I know, I’ve heard it. I don’t know how we get to them, make them understand the issue, and later treat all the kids the same. We need a workshop in understanding, not tolerance. I hate tolerance. Tolerance is putting up with. Let’s have workshops and get the teachers involved, get the people in here that can explain what the minority community is going through.

Discussion

MR. CHENEY: Are you still employed at the South Burlington school district?

MS. MARCHELEWICZ: Yes. I was asked this morning, “Are you sure you want to speak?” And I said, “I had a job before I came here and I’ll have a job when I leave.”

MR. TUCKER: It concerns me that we even give credence to that kind of intimidation.

MS. MARCHELEWICZ: But they do. You know they do. But I don’t really care. I’m going to expect there are 40 staff members at South Burlington High School, and I know my friend didn’t have but maybe 5 that were openly friendly. Most people say, “Hi, how are you.” They really don’t care, but they at least say it. But she wasn’t even greeted.

MR. CHENEY: We hear from the education department that everybody has a good heart; they just need to be taught. I think you’re giving us a slightly different message.

MS. MARCHELEWICZ: When I lived in Montpelier I used to get in more trouble over there because I’m outspoken. I don’t whitewash it. We’ve done enough dancing around and pretending and I see it in the kids. My contact with the few African American kids at school is such that I have one little guy that comes by me and pats me on the head and said, “Nice afro, Mrs. M,” but not everybody is welcoming. I see the new kids when they come to school how long it takes them to find a comfortable place to have lunch. And I’ve said to teachers, “How’s that kid working on your team?” They respond, “Okay.” I said, “Well, it doesn’t look like it; they’re sitting there having lunch alone.” And the teacher goes on eating the lunch, and nothing happens until that kid can finally find his or her place and connections.

There are teachers that are very good, and I don’t want to say that they’re all like that, but probably because the educators in the system today came out of a teacher core. They’ve been there a long time and they’re tired. They don’t want to do it anymore. This is a real job to them. They’ve lost that feeling of why they went into teaching, and they are burned out. They shouldn’t be there for 30 and 40 years. The gap is too wide between the problems and the ages of the kids.

Leigh Pfenning [25]

I’m a Native American in heritage. I am currently the principal at the North Avenue Christian School. Mayor Peter Clavelle said very clearly that our schools are a place of violence. One of his questions was, How can we build an environment of respect in our schools? I want to tell you up front that education will not eliminate racism. Racism is real but politics will not eliminate racism. Racism is an issue of the heart. And here we’re not only dealing with racism involving African Americans, we’re dealing with racism involving Asians, Hispanics, and every other person or group that there is.

Carol Ode [26]
Efforts to improve school curriculum

I come here tonight to speak as an individual. There is no place for hate and prejudice in our country. We all must work to make the basic tenets set out in the United States Constitution a reality. Our dreams, our ideals must become real. Our Nation stands for equal opportunity for all. Our public schools, public education, stands for equal educational opportunity for all. To the extent that we as a public school system and our Nation fall short, and we do, we must continue to improve.

This forum is one of several on race I have attended. The experience hearing people today has been humbling but also inspiring. The incredible strength, humor, idealism, caring of the children who have spoken and of the adults who have spoken. The voices have been full of anguish and anger but also of love and hope. We expect more of our country and for our lives in this country, and we should. I personally will continue to work hard, try again, and try harder.

Discussion

MR. HOFF: Based on what you heard at this forum has that enhanced your awareness of racism within the Burlington public school system or is this something that you already were well aware of?

MS. ODE: Yes.

MR. HOFF: Do you have a systematic approach to this within the school board?

MS. ODE: We do. One of our strategic planning goals is around diversity, and we have been working on it in many areas to improve how our district handles issues around racism, ageism, and sexism, and we have a definition of diversity that is fairly all-encompassing.[27] We have just hired an equity diversity coordinator for the district and are continuing to look at our curriculum. We are trying to increase the pool of applicants for positions in the Burlington school system, and we have. Since our strategic plan was implemented 3 years ago, I believe we’ve hired eight or nine people of color in the district. And we’re working with community and with family involvement. We’re trying to meet the individual needs of all students, and it’s a very overwhelming task but one that we continue to work at.

On the State level, the National Association of State Boards of Education has as one of its foremost goals the appreciation and awareness of diversity, and that is one of the goals that is also embraced by the State Board of Education.

MR. HOFF: Well, two people in the State Department of Education testified about what a difficult job theirs was and the fact that there wasn’t sufficient funding for them to do a whole lot more than they’re doing now. Would you be supportive of the department’s seeking a higher appropriation in that area?

MS. ODE: I think funding is critical on the local level.

MR. TUCKER: Do you think some kind of mechanism could be put into place that parents would have access to those people who represent them and not just hear what happened from the administration?

MS. ODE: We do have a harassment policy in the district and individual complaints do go through the procedure that’s set out that backs that policy up. School board members don’t follow each of the complaints that come in, but we are completely accessible to the public via telephone and not just board meetings and so forth. We live in the community and people can and do contact us. What we would probably tell people, however, is that we will absolutely listen and help in any way we can to make sure that they go through the procedure that’s in effect so that appropriate steps can be taken.

MR. CHENEY: Could you tell me how you rate your school system in terms of dealing with racism? What’s your personal assessment of how that job is being done?

MS. ODE: I don’t have a ranking for you. But I think it is something that over the past 5 years has become a critical issue in the school system, and it’s something that the board, community members, teachers, and administrators have spent time on through the strategic planning process over the past 3 years. Quite a bit of time has been spent on this effort, and I would have to say that we are growing in our understanding and continuing to work to make things better.

MS. SAUDEK: One of the things that was absent was any attention to the overall curriculum.

MS. ODE: Our curriculum director is working on that.

MS. SAUDEK: Is it a high priority?

MS. ODE: Yes, it is. Another thing I didn’t mention was teacher education. We’ve had Merryn Rutledge of the Vermont Equity Project do work on awareness of diversity issues in literature. It is something we’re working on. It is a high priority. It’s a lot of work to do because textbooks come as textbooks come, and literature that people have read for years hasn’t always spoken to all of us who have been reading it.

DR. HAND: We’ve been talking about harassment policies, ways to deal with this. This is an external process which is imposed upon systems.

MS. ODE: The harassment policy? No. The State has mandated that we have harassment policies, but then we work on how our district’s policy should look. It includes everything it needs to under State law, and it is tailored to meet our needs and is always changing. The school board actually writes the policy, and we hear comments over time about how it’s working. For instance, parents have complained that they don’t know what has happened to a particular student whom they feel has violated our policy. Even though the student has been appropriately disciplined, that student is protected by laws regarding student confidentiality. Actions taken by the administration can’t be divulged. So, as a board, we ask ourselves, how we can communicate better than in the past that procedures have been followed yet protect student confidentiality. So you start out with a policy written a particular way and then you get comments, complaints, and questions about how it’s working, and then you further tailor it to meet your districts’ needs.

Bill Herrington [28]
Methods schools can employ to foster greater tolerance and respect for minority student concerns

I’m a licensed clinical social worker and hold the position of support services counselor at the Rutland Middle School. We are a 7th and 8th grade school with a student enrollment of 400. We presently have 15 minority students in our school. Last year we had 12 minority students. Less than 4 percent of our student body are minority students. I have worked in the Rutland public school system for 9 years. My perception of racial harassment in our school is that there is not a smoldering problem in need of immediate attention.

On January 20, 1997, the principal at our school invited all parents of minority children to attend a roundtable discussion about multiculturalism and the issues that confront minority children in the public school. One-third of the parents of our minority students (which would be four) attended this forum and did not express concern about racial harassment. They instead expressed concern that we did not offer more multicultural experiences for students at our school. They felt that prejudice was alive and well in Rutland even though it might not overtly rear its ugly head in the form of racial harassment in the schools. If our school provided more multicultural experiences for students, then there might be better understanding, appreciation, and sensitivity to multicultural issues.

I recently had an opportunity to speak with 12 of our 15 minority students. They did not feel that racial harassment was a problem in our school. One student had experienced racial harassment in 6th grade and when brought to the attention of the administrator this student felt it was resolved. I am aware of an African American student last year who was a recipient on several occasions of racial slurs in the heat of verbal disputes with peers. These incidents were immediately addressed by our school administrator. Has racial harassment occurred in our school? Yes. Is it a smoldering problem that needs immediate attention? I say no. I am more concerned with the general lack of empathy that many of our students have for each other no matter what their ethnic background. Many students seem to have little tolerance for individual differences, whether it is height, weight, socioeconomic standing, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.

I recently had a group of 25 peer leaders from the Rutland High School come to our school and present an interactive program to all of our 7th graders about appreciating individual differences. We plan to follow this program up with a peer mediation initiative that utilizes high school students trained in conflict resolution to mediate middle school conflicts.

The Rutland city school district has a harassment policy that was approved on July 25, 1995, and is included in its entirety in the Rutland Middle School Handbook, which is distributed to every student in our school at the beginning of each school year. This policy has also been distributed to all school personnel and is posted in a conspicuous location in our main office. Last year the principal personally discussed this policy with the whole student body. We have not made any whole school public comments about this policy this year other than encourage and expect all teacher advisory staff to review the Rutland Middle School Family Handbook with their students.

It is my belief that all forms of harassment are a smoldering problem in the public schools which need immediate attention. We need to provide training opportunities for students and staff that reduces prejudicial behavior. All of us carry some unintentional prejudices from early experiences in learning. These prejudices will only be reduced through training by a culturally diverse group of trainers.

Approximately 4 years ago, the Mt. Elmore Institute provided a sexual harassment workshop for all Rutland city school staff. This was a very informative and sensitizing experience. It would be very timely for our students and staff to participate in some diversity training that moves beyond the legal response to harassment and attempts to reduce prejudices through awareness and empathy-building activities.

I applaud the time and effort of the Vermont Advisory Committee in organizing and facilitating these forums. I hope that your report and recommendations will indicate the communities and schools in Vermont need to develop plans and strategies to reduce all forms of harassing behavior and not limit your concerns solely to racial harassment.

Discussion

MR. CHENEY: Bill, you must have a unique school because the testimony is in variance with statements that people have brought to us quite forcefully, problems with minority students in the schools. You’re also the only staff person that’s come before us to give us this information. DR. HAND: When you say there’s no smoldering problem but there are isolated incidents, how are they reported to you? How are you aware of them?

MR. HERRINGTON: The incidents that have come to our attention have either been observed by our staff or have been reported by other students. And I guess my feeling whether it’s racial harassment or any other form of harassment is that we need to do an educational piece and try to build empathy on the part of the perpetrator towards this kind of harassment. So I can’t say that in all cases, or even in the majority of cases, there will be a suspension or some other strong disciplinary response. It’s more trying to get the perpetrator to understand what it’s like for the victim to experience this kind of behavior.

DR. HAND: But you don’t think there’s any inhibitions in reporting these incidents?

MR. HERRINGTON: I don’t believe so.

MS. ELMER: Do you feel that the children that you can so easily identify feel that your school is a safe environment? What we’ve heard from countless parents and students is not only is the school not a safe environment but parents are having to give up jobs to go into the schools to monitor on a regular basis what’s happening. Clearly that’s not your experience, but can you address that at all?

MR. HERRINGTON: I guess it’s not my experience specifically around racial issues. What I’m concerned about is harassment in general. Before I left today, almost the last period of the day I had an obese student who’s very sensitive about his weight who had been harassed about his weight, and those kinds of things happen often and frequently. So it’s not just racial harassment. I’m just concerned the lack of empathy the kids have for each other.

MR. TUCKER: We heard from a person that bullying leads into the kind of behavior that children can end up being racially harassed. If they do sexuality, they will do another ism. We just happen to be specializing in racial harassment because of the uprise of this over the Vermont school systems, and it hasn’t been approached. Also, it’s clear to us from what’s been told to us that not a lot of children of color feel comfortable about going and saying something to school officials.

MR. HERRINGTON: I can only tell you my perspective. When I spoke with these students, I told them that I was going to be coming here. I said, folks, this panel really needs to hear what life is like for you in these schools. One African American student spoke about an incident during a game against another school. As the players were walking down, they were shaking hands and one student did not want to shake with him. When I asked him other experiences that he’s had in our school he was unable to articulate. And whether that’s because my color is a barrier to him, I’m not sure, but I really was not hearing from these kids that racial issues were making it an unsafe place for them to come to school.

MR. CHENEY: Do you know of anybody else in the school system that was going to come to this forum to talk about the issue of racial harassment in schools?

MR. HERRINGTON: I knew several other people that were approached, and I hate to speak for other people, but I think what I was hearing was that people, at least within our school system, felt more concern about sexual orientation and harassment. We do have concerns about a variety of different forms of harassment but did not feel that racial harassment was a major issue or concern.

MR. TUCKER: Well, schools must be changed in Rutland because when I went to school people who bullied bullied, and they bullied an enormous amount of groups. Also, I know as a parent of three children of color that they’re not going to feel comfortable about telling everybody about the stuff that happens to them. In the work that I do in this State, I get a lot of calls from Rutland. I find it hard to believe that a school in Vermont today is a sanctuary for a child of color when he’s getting it from all these other places. There is no minor issue for kids when they’re attacked racially. There are no isolated incidents.

DR. GUSTAFSON: In regards to the parents that were concerned about the curriculum rather than specific incidents, do you know if there were ever changes made to the curriculum? Did that become a project of the school?

MR. HERRINGTON: The principal at that particular time had wanted to keep this particular committee going. He since has left. We have a new principal. Although I’m a counselor there and I was at that forum, I must say that it has not continued.

Summary

Teachers, school administrators, and support personnel provided an overview of racial harassment in the pubic school system. They described teachers’ and administrators’ denial of the existence of a problem and a failure to take appropriate steps to maintain a bias-free environment in the schools. They allege these factors contributed to racially hostile learning environments. They cited a specific incident of hate mail directed to African American and Jewish students, and discussed the use of inappropriate curriculum material and general insensitivity to minority student safety concerns.

One school counselor believed that all forms of harassment have occurred in his and other public schools. Although this counselor did not know of particular incidents of racial harassment in his school, he acknowledged that racism existed in his community. He also noted that he did not view harassment as a problem in need of immediate attention. Despite this belief, he informed the Committee that his school has instituted multicultural roundtable discussions with students and a peer mediation program designed to reduce prejudicial behavior. The panelists identified other solutions, such as the need to celebrate diversity, the development of multicultural learning materials, recruitment and hiring of teachers and administrators of diverse races and backgrounds, and the presence of diversity specialists in each school. The panelists generally agreed on the need to increase staff accountability through the use of mandatory multicultural training for school personnel and State assessment of schools’ antiharassment efforts.

Community Organizations, the University of Vermont, and the Vermont Department of Corrections

Various community organization representatives working with racial harassment issues in public and private segments of Vermont communities shared with the Advisory Committee their perceptions of the problem. The panelists described the overall racial climate in Vermont institutions, including elementary and secondary schools and institutes of higher education. Panelists also noted improvements that could be made to current teacher training and recertification to help teachers and administrators better deal with issues of racism and harassment. Two advocacy organization representatives described prospective programs that would use both teachers and students to address racial harassment in schools.

One panelist offered her insights into the challenges facing parents who adopted children outside their race. In addition, a diversity model used to train correction officers and inmates was introduced. That program has the potential to be offered to the State’s public school system. Finally, the perspective of a reporter who has covered racial incidents in Vermont is included.

Donald Grinde [29]
Institutional racism

Over the past 3 years I’ve set up an academic program that focuses on race and racism and the history of people of color in the United States. The purpose has been to offer students a curriculum that deals with race and solutions about race in America, provide support to State and local communities and institutions, and share our resources with institutions that need this knowledge.


TABLE 2.3
Community and Advocacy Organization
Representatives

Presenter

Organization

Donald Grinde

director of Alana Studies, University of Vermont, professor of American Indian History

Joseph Gainza

field secretary, American Friends Service Committee

Merryn Rutledge

president, ReVisions Consulting; director and founder of the Vermont Equity Project

David Shiman

professor, University of Vermont, College of Education-Social Services

Heather Clark/ Jay Simmons

training coordinator, Vermont Department of Corrections

Tory Rhodin

clinical social worker, Casey Family Services (post adoption program)

Shay Totten

editor, Vermont Times

Aundrie Robinson

Round Table of Unity


My perspective is that racism invents and reinvents itself over and over again. That’s how it persists. It’s like a virus which emerges in a different form and takes on different dimensions every generation. Institutions need a proactive response to racism so they can stop replicating racism and buying into its new forms because always the new inventions appear to be nonracist. Everybody is always sure that racism existed 25 years ago. It’s important to realize that problems we see in the schools are similar to the problems in the university. We’ve also had white students harassing faculty of color, so it’s not just student to student.

One of the things the university can do is teacher training. We need the State to mandate courses on racial sensitivity for teacher training and certification. We need to examine what those courses will be about in consultation with university faculty, Vermont State Board of Education, the Advisory Committee, and the Human Rights Commission and set up exactly what the institution of public education needs in the State of Vermont. We need everybody to take ownership. We need school administrators, teachers, parents, and people that train teachers at the university to buy into this as a societal problem that needs to be addressed. This training should be followed by additional workshops where we take a long, hard look at how we train our school administrators about race and ask what resources do we have and how can we train them so that incidents of harassment can be mitigated and prevented.

One of the problems that I found dealing with race in Vermont is often there’s a denial that, “We don’t have those problems here or they’re so minimal that they’re incidental.” And as long as we have that kind of denial, we don’t have people buying into the solution or recognizing that there is a problem. Race becomes something that is episodic, incidental, and unusual, because the norm is kind of an aracial society. That’s simply not true as testimony today and the experience of people of color, as well as the experience of whites too, in this matter testifies over and over again.

There must be an acceptance that Vermont is becoming a much more diverse place and that in reality sometimes the racial problems actually complicate themselves. That doesn’t mean that we should give up on this, but we should realize that with diversity you go from talking about what you ought to do to actually doing diversity. And rather than speaking the good talk and noble ideas, suddenly you are confronted with people of color in the classroom as your colleagues. It’s quite different to say we ought to be diverse than when we are. And I think sometimes that’s a problem in the public schools too. You want to talk a noble ideal, but implementing it is a completely different step than giving lipservice.

Those are some of the things the university can offer. Over the last 3 years I have strived to hire at least six or eight faculty of color for the sociology, history, and religion and other departments that conduct research and have insight into race and racism in America. We also have whites that are committed to this problem. Without the white community and leadership buying into this dilemma as a real problem, often training about race and racism is merely people of color standing up and complaining while others sit and listen and then go home. We need more specific programs and cooperation at all levels to address these problems.

Discussion

MR. CHENEY: Say you had the floor with the State Board of Education, what recommendations would you make from what you’ve heard today?

MR. GRINDE: The Department of Education should make recommendations about training teachers about issues of race and racism. The Vermont State colleges and the university should be brought into that discussion. We’re beginning to attempt that in the university’s school of education with various courses on race and racism.

MR. CHENEY: Is your curriculum for the university or would it be suitable for elementary and secondary teachers?

MR. GRINDE: If it’s suitable for teachers that are being trained to be elementary school teachers, then certainly similar curriculum could be given to existing teachers and administrators that are coming back for their master’s degree or recertification. To address issues unique to Vermont, we could have people from the school of education and the State Department of Education to describe things that happen in our schools and ways to effectively deal with them.

One of the things that is important is for the university to hire more people in this area. We have a need within the university, and now we’re hearing that there’s a great need in the State. Perhaps the university can be called in to help in that. If that’s going to happen, then resources need to be made available. Certainly this problem is something that hopefully the university through its faculty and its expertise can at least be a partner in the solution.

DR. JOHNSON: Do you see the university spearheading research for the school system?

MR. GRINDE: Color is the number one problem of the 20th century. Dealing with racial tension and with racism is and remains extremely important. The problems change or redefine themselves over time, and part of studying racism is we must be aware of how racism changes. Certainly there have been people in the State that have begun to study racism and more needs to be done. Secondly, people with antiracism expertise within the university can work with school administrators and the State Department of Education to develop a program that fits their needs and identifies the problems and approaches or solutions that can be developed. What’s needed is a community-based situation where you talk, not just with academics, with school administrators, but with parents and hammer out something that everyone can work with.

Joseph Gainza [30]
Prospective solutions to eliminate racism in American communities

The American Friends Service Committee is concerned with the world as it is and as it ought to be. Fundamental beliefs in the individual, seeing the divine in each person, and in the need for peace and justice guide our activities. AFSC is dedicated to nonviolence, opposing both the overt violence of war and the covert violence that erodes the human spirit through deprivation and indifference. What I will say here today is not new to any of you. My intention is to put on record the larger context in which racial harassment in Vermont schools, indeed in schools across the Nation, occurs. Racism is pervasive in the United States. President Clinton has called it one of our most enduring and far-reaching social ills. But racism is not simply a matter of individual bias or discriminatory action. Racism is systemic denial of their full human rights to categories of people based on their race.

What exists in our country, what we call racism, is social, economic, and political oppression. It has historic roots, serves certain members of our society, and pervades every aspect of relations between black and white Americans. American racism is the multifaceted oppression of black Americans by white Americans who wield power. There can be no such thing as reverse racism. The power imbalance is decidedly in one direction.

Racism is not the only form of oppression which disfigures the American dream. Sexism, classism, homophobia, ablism, to name a few, not only oppress people who are not black but also feed and maintain a racially hostile environment. Today we see a growing gap between the extremely rich and the rest of us. To maintain this imbalance of power and privilege, historical antagonisms between races, men and women, gay and straight, citizens, and immigrants and others must be fanned into flame.

As the economic pie is divided even more unequally between the owners of capital and the working majority of Americans, struggles to secure a private safety net exacerbate the misunderstandings and fear associated with the issue of difference. In this context, while necessary, efforts to combat individual acts of bigotry will serve to suppress the boiling discontent which underlies them.

I ask you to use the special platform which is available to you to call attention to oppression in the U.S. in all its forms, economic, social, political, and racial. Only when we name and remove the root causes of racism which are found in these other faces of oppression coupled with the idea of zero tolerance of racial harassment, a steady diminishment of acts of hatred and bigotry in our schools will occur.

Help Increase the Peace Project. What the American Friends Service Committee is offering in the State is a program called “Help Increase the Peace.” The program consists of a series of interactive exercises that work with people on issues of prejudice reduction, community building, and nonviolent conflict resolution. We try to engage students at the level of their experience about how they perceive themselves and how they perceive people who are different from themselves and to engage them in ideas about how they might be able to lower the intensity of anger and misunderstanding that sometimes happens when people who have different backgrounds, different ethnic or racial backgrounds come together in a school setting. What American Friends tries to do, in not only cases of racial harassment in schools but in the broader community, is to bring people together in a comfortable environment so that they can begin to see each other as individuals, share each other’s stories, and begin to see that the fear that they have developed is based on nothing other than fear itself.

DR. JOHNSON: Is there some way that you have to determine how effective your “Help Increase the Peace” activities are as they go forward into these various problem areas?

MR. GAINZA: Help Increase the Peace has been running in other parts of the country for longer than it has here in Vermont. Here are two examples: In Syracuse, New York, where we have a program going for the last 7 years where young people take action around these issues, they have set up committees within the schools that young people run and address issues of racial harassment and violence.

In western Massachusetts, members of the Cambodian American community have begun to address issues of police harassment for minorities. These are young people who go through this workshop and begin to find language and skills to address these issues in nonviolent ways. These young people have been accused of being gang members and inciting violence in the schools. They are learning ways to respond that doesn’t heighten the level of anger and distrust.

MR. CHENEY: Have you tried to share curriculum with educators, people from the university, or State Department of Education officials to develop something that would be useful?

MR. GAINZA: Not with the department itself. I’ve been approaching individual schools, but I’d be very open to that. I have worked some with the Vermont antiracism action team, and we did a 2-hour workshop on trying to come to a clear understanding of what racial prejudice means in school settings and in society. I also did a workshop in the Brattleboro Union High School on their diversity days, which tried to come to the same understandings among students.

Merryn Rutledge [31]
Use of inappropriate curriculum and its relation to racial harassment, Need for teacher training on recognizing prejudice

Today I’ll focus on course units, materials, and pedagogy to give you a picture of what Vermont teachers are doing in their classrooms. What I see in Vermont mirrors what I have seen as I have worked with teachers all over New England. Vermont classrooms show glaring omissions and damaging images of women and men of color. Some Vermont teachers are creating wonderful examples of inclusive antiracist curriculum.

MR. CHENEY: I’m interested in impact and results/changes that you have brought about.

MS. RUTLEDGE: The reason I describe both parts of the picture was to suggest that the results are immediate in the changed perspective and behavior of the teachers (see appendix 7).

COMMITTEE QUESTION:[32] What’s happen-ing in the schools when you do this? What kind of impact over time on the children?

MS. RUTLEDGE: It takes about a third of the total staff in my view in order to make any kind of impact beyond the individual teacher’s interest in the topic. I think it’s immeasurable when the children begin to see that their lives are no longer tokenized, marginalized, excluded, demeaned. White children begin to understand that multicultural education is not about the other; it’s an integral, systemic change in the way every teacher does business.

MR. CHENEY: How often do you present this in Vermont schools?

MS. RUTLEDGE: For 4 years I have worked with teachers in Burlington, about one in six in the whole district, each for a whole year or an intensive semester. In addition, I have given workshops and conferences in the Rochester, Vermont, school district and run a year-long Humanities Council project in South Burlington. I’ve talked with the School Development Institutes at the University of Vermont. They’re not interested in what I have to offer. Trinity College has been rather hospitable, I must say. The school districts have been hospitable to the extent I could interest teachers in doing this work.

MR. CHENEY: You’re attacking the whole textbook system too. Are they inherently biased in the deficiencies that you’ve noted?

MS. RUTLEDGE: Yes. And because those systems are in place, and they’re going to be in place for a long time, children have to be taught to see and X-ray the cultural systems that we’re in the middle of.

MR. CHENEY: I’m still seeking for an understanding of how often you get in the schools, how often you get to make your presentation.

MS. RUTLEDGE: In Burlington I am beginning the fourth year of a semester-long cycle of seminars for teachers.

MR. CHENEY: Have you been in other school systems?

MS. RUTLEDGE: I have given shorter workshops, but not with the opportunity to work for the long period of time that it takes to make substantial change. I’d like to add a kind of prescription for what the kinds of units that teachers have to understand in order to really begin to get the whole picture: Teachers need frameworks for how to evaluate materials. There are teachers aplenty in Vermont who have taken this or that stray course at one of the Vermont college systems. There’s very little work in systemic racism. Teachers need to see that periodic celebrations of diversity, like diversity days which so many schools brag about, are superficial when they’re not accompanied by curricular attention. Teachers need to know how to recognize the dynamics of prejudice when course units and materials marginalize and make mere tokens of peoples of color. Teachers need frameworks and practical tools, not just theory, which allow teachers to systematically integrate the lives of women and men of color, white women, and others into the curriculum. When teachers merely add to curriculum “recipes” a few women or a few black people “and stir,” which is often the approach, without revising core assumptions, the curriculum keeps its white European norms.

Teachers need tools and ideas for teaching even very young children about race, gender, culture, and stereotyping. The Vermont Equity Project has seen teachers being very successful with children as young as 5-years-old in kindergarten.

And, finally, teachers need education about the connection between curriculum and harassment in the hallways and on playgrounds. Children get mixed messages in Vermont schools with very responsible programs taught by guidance counselors on harassment. These programs are diminished when students walk into the classroom and their curriculum excludes people of color and demeans them. It is further diminished whenever students leave the classroom and perpetuate more harassment.

David Shiman [33]
Lack of institutional commitment to address harassment issues, Preservice teacher training

I teach at the University of Vermont in the College of Education and Social Services. I’ve been there for approximately 25 years. I also have a 2-year-old child who is biracial and I anticipate that she will encounter some of the issues that the Committee heard yesterday in Burlington.

We can regard students who call others derogatory names or persons who put burning crosses on someone’s lawn as sick. However, when we do this it leads us away from looking at our institutions and to only blaming bad people. I think that’s a problem that we have to look at when we look at the institutional context that allows or condones racial harassment.

Sonia Nieto, in her book Affirming Diversity, writes that, “The ruckus of individual racism obscures the silence of institutional racism.” And I think it’s a very powerful statement because it looks at the role of our schools in constructing and contributing to the construction of racists, and the role our schools can play to change it. I’m working with student teachers right now and doing seminars. I have observed a lack of urgency to address the question of race in Vermont among many of the white student teachers and students I work with. I have found lately an impatience with the demands being made on them by others whose voices have not been heard in the past.

In many other communities around the State, high schools have a diversity day or a diversity week. Not that that’s all they do, but it’s a showcase week. As an example of the level of institutional commitment around this issue at one institution, the students in the multicultural club at South Burlington have to raise all the money for the event. The school has not contributed in the last 2 or 3 years even though the issue has been raised by the diversity committee. What is that saying to other students about how much the institution values all students’ learning about this when no support has been given? Some support has been given in the form of faculty working with the club, but almost nothing else.

There is a nice policy statement that’s part of the strategic plan, and I would say not very much is going on, particularly in the areas of staff development, recruitment, and curriculum change. I can hit three or four different areas that I think are not just unique to South Burlington. Very little has been done in the State with respect to hiring people of color to teach in schools. And invariably if there is a hiring effort, it’s to hire somebody to teach African American history as if that’s all people of color can do. I think there’s sort of an association there that’s not a healthy one. A number of times I’ve heard that African Americans don’t like to be in Vermont because it’s too cold or there isn’t a critical mass in the community. I think it’s just our excuses for lack of commitment and effort on our part. I think we all need to see diverse faces in front of us. Our teachers and every student need that sort of thing. This an area that needs to be addressed in every district in the State.

Discussion

MR. CHENEY: We’ve heard recommendations that there be either in-service training or requirements for recertification that there be training. Does the College of Education have anything to offer?

MR. SHIMAN: I think we have developed a variety of very good courses that deal with diversity. It’s just how do we help our students who are generally students of relative privilege feel this. A workshop and a course doesn’t do it. It must be woven into the fabric of their education. A diversity day in a high school is a nice thing, but it doesn’t do anything unless it is accompanied by sustained staff development for faculty and woven into curriculum courses.

MR. CHENEY: What’s your impression of the South Burlington curriculum?

MR. SHIMAN: I was chair of the Social Studies Review Committee. They are revising the whole social studies curriculum. I don’t know what the new one’s going to be like, but they have an elective course in black history. I have not in my analysis seen the experience of people of color woven into the curriculum.

MR. CHENEY: What about stereotypes of Native Americans or others?

MR. SHIMAN: I think there’s been more of an effort to address some of that in curriculum. What’s happened is that issues of racism and diversity in curriculum almost always get associated with social studies. That’s a real copout for other people because they don’t include it in their particular curriculum. The danger is only seeing it as a curriculum response, rather than recognizing that diversity concerns need to be woven into every aspect of the school experience. Some research that I just read recently talks about addressing sexual and racial harassment in the kindergarten and 1st grade where the issue is more bullying than harassment. As bullying is the precursor to the harassment, we should start with antibullying lessons before the behavior issue becomes specifically race conscious.

MR. CHENEY: We heard testimony about a disciplinary scheme in which the school says if two kids are fighting, they’ll both be suspended. What inevitably happens is the white kids pick serially on the black kid so he gets suspended five times and five of them get suspended once. Have you done anything in your teaching in the College of Education about discipline?

MR. SHIMAN: The methods and human development courses do address questions of discipline and strive to relate these to diversity concerns. This must be a sustained focus throughout an educator’s professional life.

MR. TUCKER: Since even the worst schools that I’ve observed (not only in Vermont but in a lot of other places) don’t have a curriculum on racism, how do you see reaching a school community outside of the teachers?

MR. SHIMAN: I think that the boundary lines between school and community need to be blurred. We need to find effective ways to help people who didn’t have a lot of success in school as students to feel more comfortable with school as parents. The people who have a bad school experience, often in the lower socioeconomic groups, often people of color, don’t want to go back to a place that was a bad place for them. And somehow we need to bring all people into the conversation. There are some organizations in the Burlington area, such as REAP (Race Education Action Project) that are trying to build bridges. Last year some guidelines from the State Department of Education which came out included a set of competencies for beginning teachers, and in one of the drafts they had eliminated a statement that related to teachers’ commitment to equity. However, the final copy does have a competency with respect to that. Every institution, particularly the school, needs to be actively against racism and sexism, not just promoting a tolerance and understanding of differences in a passive curricular sense.

MR. CHENEY: Since you know these people, does it surprise you that not a single superintendent or principal has volunteered to come before this Commission and talk about solutions to the problem?

MR. SHIMAN: Surprise me, yes. I know some people who I feel really care about this problem. So it disappoints me.

MS. ELMER: In South Burlington is there any coordination between what you called the diversity committee and school administrators regarding their analysis of antiharassment policies?

MR. SHIMAN: The diversity committee advised the superintendent. Our job was to help in getting a principle written into the strategic plan. We haven’t met in 8 months. When we view diversity as a special item, a discrete concern, it never seems to rise up to high enough on the “action” list unless there is an incident. If we saw it as part of curriculum budget, personnel, or staff development, and all other aspects of school life, then it would be there all the time. “We can’t do it now” or “You get to it when you can” is the mindset about the way you think about issues around diversity. Needless to say, I haven’t been very satisfied with the South Burlington diversity effort.

DR. HAND: Can you provide a list of superintendents who might be willing to consult with the Advisory Committee?

MR. SHIMAN: That would be really hard. I think I could identify some teachers and principals who would be willing. In terms of superintendents, I would be hard pushed. I know some good, concerned people, but that doesn’t mean anything much is going on in the districts. Burlington is well ahead in terms of developing a sustained diversity committee that tried to do things such as a needs assessment.

MS. SAUDEK: What can be done in preservice training to get a systemwide solution? Do you think work can be done in recertification of teachers that can address the issue?

MR. SHIMAN: In preservice, some are very hard to do at the University of Vermont due to geographical and demographic reasons. Student teachers need experiences working with diverse cultures and encounter people other than those they grew up with. We need to unpack the cultural baggage and critically examine how we explain away why people are poor or why people don’t succeed. An effort should be made to develop challenging curriculum materials so that students look at things from different perspectives.

MS. SAUDEK: We heard a great deal of testimony from parents of children who were feeling extraordinarily overburdened and having to teach their children’s schools how to respond to their kids’ needs, and having to do it teacher by teacher, year by year, administrator by administrator to give them the information they needed in order to respond appropriately to their children’s needs. It would seem to me that part of that burden should be borne by the teacher preparation institutions.

MR. SHIMAN: Yes. And I think it is. Efforts are made to ensure that when a student teacher picks books for kids to read in an elementary school, or makes decisions how to group kids for learning or selects curriculum themes, he or she will be thinking about diversity issues.

MR. TUCKER: I see large amounts of money in Vermont being spent going off to Beijing and Tokyo, etc. and yet they go past Chinatown and Harlem. It would seem to me that if you want to learn how to teach diverse populations, you would be sent to diverse populations in the United States rather than in Beijing. An incident occurring in a school in San Francisco or Harlem will have a greater impact to administrators completing recertification than an incident in Beijing.

MR. SHIMAN: I think we need both perspectives. In our teacher preparation program we don’t send anybody overseas as part of their professional program. Most of this type of staff development work is done with present not future teachers. The China and Asian studies projects have not been for people pursuing licensure. These are valuable programs. I think it makes them more culturally sensitive teachers. They might not focus on what’s going on within their own communities, but they engage themselves and their ethnocentrism when they go overseas. This will positively affect their teaching.

Heather Clark/Jay Simmons [34]
Adapting diversity programs used in other State agencies to the school setting, Vermont Department of Correction approach

In terms of diversity and training, the Department of Corrections seeks to become a better, more organized learning organization and make better connections with the community as part of our restorative justice initiatives and community policing. The department considers the educational system as part of our community.

In terms of the target audience, one of the differences I see between young students and corrections staff is their willingness to participate in trainings and programs. The most common phrase we hear in cultural awareness training is “Oh, we don’t have diversity in the Department of Corrections and so we don’t have a problem. So, why don’t you go away because we’ve got other more important things to deal with.” The biggest struggle for our department is getting people interested, getting them to come and listen and participate productively and respectfully in a topic that’s value laden.

Some of our learning objectives around diversity training are about self-awareness. We started asking our staff, Where do you come from? How do you see yourself? What kinds of things are you proud of and what kinds of things are embarrassing? We’re having more success doing that than we are lecturing them on how we define racism, or stereotyping what we think is prejudice. Not that we don’t value that, but we needed to get dialogue going.

The project takes a middle to top down approach. It was based on our highly effective needs assessment that identified mostly anecdotal data. Our Agency of Human Services collects all of the information around grievances, complaints, hostile work environment grievances. Since oftentimes the incidents themselves are confidential, the information I get as a trainer is that we’ve identified a problem: Please put together a curriculum.

Discussion

MR. CHENEY: Is your training to keep staff from chewing each other up or is it related to the inmates?

MS. CLARK: Both. Our informal needs assessment came from a couple of places. One is our changing offender population.

MR. SIMONS: My facility is approximately 10 percent minority. There was some talk about sending teachers to other countries to study culture. If you want to send teachers to a place to learn about a diverse population, send them to a correctional facility. To get our training from our central office level down to the officers on the blocks, we implement a training that isn’t scary for people to go to. We get people to talk about themselves. That’s extremely safe. When I talk about myself, what I want to do is find the components of their culture so that I become aware of why I do the things I do and the behaviors that other people see. Now when I see somebody different from me, I see myself as the average and the norm, and when I see myself as the average and the norm, then I’m what’s right. Look at yourself objectively. When they do that, they don’t see themselves as being right or different, they see how am I different from you. That’s pretty safe; that’s not as scary. We then train their peers in these techniques and modules, and their peers then go and maintain the trainings at those levels. We’re addressing topics such as language that perpetuates stereotypes and how that can be dangerous. All of these areas we’re training specific modules and then we recertify staff through a set of these modules that their peers deliver.

MS. CLARK: Some of the feedback that we get from our participants in these trainings is that the most effective learning moment for them has been exposure. The kinds of stories I hear is, “I grew up in Vermont and I haven’t met this group of people and I learned the most having finally been exposed to this group of people or that group.” Not only having this exposure but putting their foot in their mouth or doing something unintentionally inappropriate or hurtful and having the person or people they do that to be forgiving.

In our training plan, we try to take away the risk, encourage respectful dialogue for the folks in the department, increase awareness, and take away the fear. It’s not an easy task getting them interested and enthusiastic about this topic. They’re afraid of words like diversity, affirmative action, difference in the workplace, EEOC, ADA.

One of the elements of the training plan is called the components of culture which is getting folks talking about how they see culture, what it’s made up of. We start with the iceberg exercise: when you look at an iceberg, what do you see, you see the tip, you see the behaviors, and the clothes people wear, and the things people eat and who they hang around with and what don’t you see? You don’t see the attitudes and beliefs.

MR. TUCKER: So you think this is appropriate for school-aged children? How would you monitor it to see that it would work?

MS. CLARK: Well, it’s not complicated. The key isn’t the target audience; it is a confident facilitator who tracks where the conversation’s going and how people are reacting.

MR. CHENEY: You can do a workshop, but how do you sustain it?

MS. CLARK: When I look at Corrections as a learning organization, my feeling is that how I measure success is very important to the organization and to me because really our large objective is that our staff are respectful of each other and respectful to offenders. The sustainability to me is recognizing we work in a place where there’s potential violence and danger all the time, and to staying on top of the issues by encouraging improvement through constant exposure and coming up with a good evaluation plan. You can draw parallels between what we’ve done within the Department of Corrections in terms of diversity training and the Department of Education. However, is one coordinator in Montpelier going to make a difference? Does it need to be staffing at each supervisory union level? Does it have to be at each school? Talk to us about how you think from your experience. How do we get it into the schools right down to the level where it’s working with kids? It’s the amount of dedication we have to talking to each other first and finding out what is it that these kids see as a problem. It was interesting to find out that a lot of people don’t see a problem.

Tory Rhodin [35]
Counseling for adoptive families to promote positive racial identity, Subtle forms of racism

As a clinical social worker, I provide a range of counseling, training, consultation, and educational services to people helping adoptive families throughout Vermont. I also am the mother by adoption of a 2-year-old African American child. I can comment on experiences told to me by transracial adoptive families in Vermont. Compared to many other States around the country, there are a significant number of children placed transracially in Vermont (i.e., primarily children of various racial backgrounds adopted by white families). In the past a large number of Asian children, particularly from India and Korea, have been placed with families in Vermont. More recently a large number of African American children and Chinese girls have been placed primarily with white families.

My feeling, both as a parent and as a person who’s been working professionally with adoptive families for a number of years, is that families need to be very proactive in creating a positive environment for their children and working in the larger world to help that happen. I think that adoptive families face a double challenge both of promoting positive racial identity development for their children as well as building a strong attachment to the family and to the larger community. My own experience, both as a parent and as a clinical social worker, is that the development of a positive racial identity in a child and the development of a strong attachment to the family work hand in hand because that’s what will help the child feel known and connected to the family. I repeatedly stress to families that we need to begin thinking of ourselves as families of color who are parenting a child, not as white families that have a child from “a different racial background.” Something needs to change in the racial identity of the family that will help a stronger identity develop in the child.

Some adoptive families have experienced racial harassment in the schools. I’ve heard of that from one family. What I’ve heard of very frequently is what I believe is a more subtle racist experience in the Vermont school community where the child day after day does not see anything or anybody that reflects who the child is in terms of race and culture. A very stressful situation for a child who’s been adopted by a white family is that the child is not seeing their identity reflected when they look at their parents and siblings. This experience of seeing themselves not reflected in a world they live in can be very demoralizing and emptying.

Certainly our children are exposed, as are all children of color in this country, to a fairly constant onslaught of negative media images of themselves and their culture. I’ve talked with families and experienced in my own family people who have what I consider to be a subtle kind of racism. Initially it is framed as being something very positive such as people commenting “how cute” your child is when they don’t know you or your child and your child isn’t any cuter than anybody else.

In addition to doing counseling and therapy, part of what I do involves training for adoptive families and staff working with them. I led an annual workshop called “Taking a Stand Against Racism” at the Vermont Adoption Conference which attracts several hundred adoptive parents. Our intention was to help prospective adoptive families explore their own racial and ethnic background and their experiences with racism and come to some understanding of what this experience has meant for parenting their child. Our intention was to help them both to be reflective about their own experience and understand that they were moving into a time when they need to take practical action against racism in the world.

My feeling is that schools need to be very proactive with regard to racial issues. I think that anybody involved with the school, including the parents, needs to think about whose history is being taught in the school, what images the child sees, and what are the stories that are interwoven into every aspect of the curriculum. To me, as a high school student 30 years ago, I think there was a lot more consciousness among white high school students about the fact that there were vast areas of history that we were not being taught in the United States history. My high school had a student initiated course on African American history which led me later to study that in college. As part of my own training, I was strongly encouraged to live and work in an African American community. I had the privilege of being able to study at the time when affirmative action was taken seriously and when it was seen as a necessary goal for every student and teacher that there be a genuinely diverse population. The background environment, including the population of the school and the administration, makes a huge difference in what you learn and what is considered important.

Discussion

MR. CHENEY: We’ve heard a lot of testimony from adoptive mothers of multiracial children. It seems there’s a cadre of skills being built up by parents to counteract racist experiences. This group may have a lot of news for the educational establishment. I wonder if you have developed strategies that you can pass on, not only to your adoptive parents, but to others who might want to use it?

MS. RHODIN: A lot of the work that we do is to link parents and families with other families who are like them in some way. There are several multicultural family groups around the State of Vermont. Some of them are primarily adoptive families, and some are a combination of families formed by marriage. We strongly encourage transracial adoptive families and people who are thinking about adopting a child of color, if they happen to be white, to become involved with the multicultural family groups so that both the children and the parents are spending a significant amount of their time with children and adults of color. But it’s not only important for the child; it’s at least as important for the adult, because it’s the adult who’s got the power in the family. A group of African American and Latino students at Dartmouth formed the Dartmouth Alliance for Children of Color which provides a range of activities and a big brother/big sister program and student-parent, faculty-parent conversations for adoptive families. That’s been a very strong intervention for families.

MR. CHENEY: Some of the specific issues people speak of is that their kids are invisible. And they have adopted strategies to deal with that. Do you have specific intervention strategies that could be used in the schools?

MS. RHODIN: The best thoughts I have are for the family to be spending as much time as they can with families of color and multiracial families so that the child is regularly seeing children and adults like him or herself. It is also important that the child’s and the family’s friends, the church, the images that are available in the home or television, the history that’s talked about in the home, are experiences that reflect the child’s culture of origin. We help schools around general issues of adoption and encourage families to live where their child is not the only child of color and where it’s possible not to have their child be in isolation at school. A number of the families also had the experience of the child feeling invisible and the child not having words for what they’re experiencing. If the child is the only child of a particular race in the school and the parents aren’t willing or able to move to a community where that won’t need to be so, I think it’s important that the rest of the child’s life be more culturally diverse. Adults should work with the child to help him or her find words to describe what they’re experiencing so at least it’s not just an inner suffering that there aren’t any words for.

Shay Totten [36]
Media coverage of racial harassment

The Vermont Times is an institution that tries to pride itself on being the truth seekers, the ones that go after to find the greater truth of things that affect our community on a regular basis. Many times we fall short of that goal. And we try our best for the most part to try and at least add perspective to any debate. But I think that if you asked any of my colleagues, I don’t think anybody could say that they wanted to see the kind of strife and divisiveness that can occur when we talk about issues of racial discrimination and racial harassment, or any kind of harassment. I don’t think there’s anybody in the media that would say he or she enjoys covering these issues.

I’ve been covering issues surrounding racial discrimination and racial diversity for a number of years in this State. I think Vermonters do want to have the kind of community where everyone’s accepted. But I’ve also witnessed firsthand the kind of basic misunderstanding and basic lack of understanding of who people are and what makes people tick, rather than focusing on what they look like, and that that is pervasive in Vermont. It’s pervasive in our society, and it’s something that the media in general can help try to shine a light on to some extent to show that this is a very difficult issue, but it is one that we need to discuss. And if the media’s going to be a member of this community at large, it’s going to be trying to shine some light on this and not just keep on reporting the same old problems again and again. Having covered stuff around this area for about 5 plus years, I’ve been to a number of community forums regarding race and you hear the same stories again and again being told to the same people, but for some reason neither the media nor community seems to hold people to the high standard that they should and ask the tough questions on why nothing is happening.

The important part that we all need to focus on is that as we talk about this, each individual situation merits its own airing. And I think we can’t deny anyone a chance to do that, but we also need to look at the greater picture and find what’s going to come out of all of this. Certainly there can never be enough dialogue in a community around this topic. I know the media can help that dialogue along; it can also hinder it too if we ourselves don’t have the kind of steep learning curve that we need to have in discussing these issues.

Aundrie Robinson [37]
Establishing an appreciation of cultural diversity

I’ve been a resident of Brattleboro, Vermont, for 3˝ years. I’m the director of the Round Table of Unity. The Round Table of Unity’s mission is to create a model for building a healthy, diverse community united in commitment to change. It promotes harmonious relationships by working collaboratively with local businesses, nonprofit, and grassroots organizations offering educational, social, and cultural activities in an integrated environment. It also develops and encourages awareness of the positive aspects of diversity to increase understanding of our changing multicultural community through programs that promote conscious self-empowerment, mutual respect, empathy, and compassion for others.

In order to make a difference it’s important for groups to work together. As far as reaching the community, it’s important to establish culturally inclusive educational programs and learning environments that reflect all races, nationalities, and beliefs in a factual and realistic manner.

Discussion

MR. TUCKER: Do you think the schools and certain agencies in Brattleboro are hand in hand when it comes to talking about racial issues if they talk about them at all?

MS. ROBINSON: I think that they are making an effort to work toward them.

Summary

Representatives from community organizations, the University of Vermont, and the Vermont Department of Corrections discussed the existence of racism and racial harassment in the State, teacher training issues, and prospective methods to increase diversity in the State’s educational system. Mr. Rhodin, a clinical social worker, identified subtle forms of racism experienced by parents who have adopted transracially. Ms. Rutledge of the Vermont Equity Project noted significant omissions in school curriculum materials and proposed remedial corrective measures (for details, see appendix 7). Other panelists spoke of the need for a statewide proactive response to racism and racial harassment and a general acknowledgment by Vermont institutions that the population is becoming increasingly diverse. Panelists recommended that the State Department of Education mandate racial sensitivity training as a prerequisite for teacher certification and collaborate with community organizations and the University of Vermont to develop a statewide curriculum for prospective teachers.

Two panelists from the Vermont Department of Corrections described a diversity training program currently being administered to correction officers that could be tailored to public school teachers and students. The program’s components include developing an understanding and appreciation for other cultures and identifying racial stereotypes.



[1] Officials from the Vermont State Department of Education and Vermont Human Rights Commission also made presentations at the forum. Their presentations, however, are incorporated in chapter 3.

[2] As a guide for the reader, major topic headings contained in each presentation are listed in italics following presenter names. Names of individuals and particular schools have been deleted when presenters made potentially defamatory statements.

[3] Some parents presented in both their capacity as parents and as employees of various Vermont State agencies.

[4] Borys testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 12–46.

[5] Blank testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 114–19, 129–33. As a supplement to their testimony, Ms. Blank and Ms. Diane Dexter submitted a letter to the Committee, which is shown in app. 8.

[6] Dexter testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 119–31.

[7] Henault testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 134–51.

[8] Hickerson testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 152–66.

[9] Schinhofen testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 186–201.

[10] Shippe testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 232–41.

[11] Davis testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 241–50.

[12] Davis testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 244–64.

[13] Al-Faruk testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 271–76.

[14] Wells testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 276–82.

[15] Lamphere testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 284–90.

[16] McMaster testimony, Rutland Transcript, pp. 6–33.

[17] Linton testimony, Rutland Transcript, pp. 42–128.

[18] Cobbett testimony, Rutland Transcript, pp. 207–17, 224–27, 231.

[19] Adame testimony, Rutland Transcript, pp. 218–31.

[20] Arnado testimony, Rutland Transcript, pp. 240–45.

[21] Pelligrino testimony, Rutland Transcript, pp. 245–52.

[22] Stoleroff testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 166–67, 183–89, 195.

[23] Henderson testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 178–82.

[24] Marchelewicz testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 201–12.

[25] Pfenning testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 290–94.

[26] Ode testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 294–305.

[27] The school district’s definition of diversity/policy is as follows: Our school community is a living organism composed of diverse members. The appreciation of this diversity can and should be one of those values which is shared by members of our school community. Each member must be free from fear, pain, and oppression in order to function fully as an individual and to enable each individual, as well as the community as a whole, to reach its full potential. Failure to fully see and appreciate others for any reason—race, gender, culture, nationality, language, ethnicity, religion, style, viewpoint, age, health, sexual preference, physical differences, or socio-economic background—results in the diminution of the whole and prevents us from fulfilling our mission: The Burlington Board of School Commissioners has as its mission, through its schools and its staff, to educate students for the present and to prepare them to participate in, influence, and shape the future.

[28] Herrington testimony, Rutland Transcript, pp. 193–207.

[29] Grinde testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 90–104. Mr. Grinde presented testimony to the Committee which is presented in app. 10.

[30] Gainza testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 104–14.

[31] Rutledge testimony, Burlington Transcript, pp. 212–25.

[32] Questions by two Committee members have been combined.

[33] Shiman testimony, Rutland Transcript, pp. 135–65.

[34] Clark and Simmons testimony, Rutland Transcript, pp. 165–80.

[35] Rhodin testimony, Rutland Transcript, pp. 180–93.

[36] Totten testimony, Rutland Transcript, pp. 264–70.

[37] Robinson testimony, Rutland Transcript, pp. 231–40. This summary of her Nov. 5, 1997, presentation is based upon her request of Jan. 11, 1999.