Letter of Transmittal
Advisory Committee to
the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
of the Commission
Mary Frances Berry, Chairperson
Cruz Reynoso, Vice Chairperson
Carl A. Anderson
Yvonne Y. Lee
Russell G. Redenbaugh
Ruby G. Moy, Staff Director
The Vermont Advisory Committee submits this report of its community forum on racial harassment in Vermont public schools held on November 4 and 5, 1997, in Burlington and Rutland. In 1996 the Advisory Committee learned that racial slurs and physical assaults were repeatedly directed at minority students in both elementary and secondary schools. The Committee also received allegations that some schools permitted a racially hostile environment to exist and, in some instances, encouraged school activities or employed curriculum materials that were derogatory to minority students. At its 2-day forum, the Committee sought to collect information regarding these and other incidents from State and Federal officials, school officials and teachers, community leaders, parents, and students.
Thirty-six panelists offered their views of racial harassment in the public schools. Many described the public schools as unfriendly and hostile, a setting wherein racial slurs, epithets, and physical assaults occur. This environment leads minority students to experience fear in every day school activities and contributes to their general ostracism from the total school community. The Committee is deeply concerned for the safety and welfare of all students, particularly minorities, who at times must confront these acts without assistance from school officials and State agencies.
The number of panelists at the forum represents a small fraction of persons invited by the Advisory Committee to participate in the discussion. Despite the Advisory Committee’s substantial outreach efforts to State legislators, educational union representatives, and school administrators, the Advisory Committee noted the absence of many key figures in the educational community who could have contributed information to the Committee but chose not to. Their absence and apparent lack of interest in the problem, the Committee believes, reflect a general indifference to the problem of racial harassment.
Based on information gathered at the forum and followup research, the Committee concludes:
Racial harassment appears pervasive in and around the State’s public schools. The elimination of this harassment is not a priority among school administrators, school boards, elected officials, and State agencies charged with civil rights enforcement. In some instances, administrators and government leaders have denied the existence of the problem and do not acknowledge the need for improvements in overall race relations within the State. As the numbers of minority students increase, there will be a concurrent rise in the number of racial harassment incidents that will not be adequately dealt with by school administrators and State civil rights enforcement agencies.
Coordinated leadership by elected officials, business leaders, and education officials is needed to bring about improved race relations.
Existing State law is deficient in addressing the problem of racial harassment on a systemwide basis and does not grant the Vermont Department of Education direct oversight responsibility of supervisory unions and local school boards with regards to racial harassment issues. This greatly inhibits the department’s ability to impose sanctions in the event particular boards fail to develop or implement antiharassment policies and procedures.
Staff shortages and limited resources available to the Vermont Department of Education render it difficult for the department to set the elimination of racial harassment as a statewide priority, conduct statewide assessments of the effectiveness of local efforts to promote bias-free school environments, and offer training and technical expertise to schools.
The Vermont Human Rights Commission, the only State agency specifically empowered to investigate racial harassment incidents, does not have sufficient resources to effectively address racial harassment incidents once they are reported. When complaints are made to the agency, parents of minority students experience long delays between the time a complaint is filed and commission action, and are not informed of the status of their complaints. These undue delays have not only frustrated parents but continued to inflict psychological damage on students who daily confront harassment on school grounds.
This report brings to the forefront an important, yet often neglected issue, and offers useful recommendations to State officials, school administrators, and civic organizations. We believe this report contributes to the Commission’s efforts to monitor equal educational opportunity at the national level. The Committee has adopted its report in a recorded poll of all members by a vote of 13 to 0, no abstentions.
B. Cheney, Chairperson
Vermont Advisory Committee