Students sit in a classroom at Boulder Peak Middle School. (Linn-Mar Community School District)
On March 7, a group of people went to the Linn-Mar school board meeting. The audience of approximately 30 gathered to hear a presentation of a recent student survey on the state of diversity, equity and inclusion at Linn-Mar.
Before the presentation began, high school student Briana Clymer took to the podium to offer comments to the audience.
“I and other students of color were called racial slurs, stereotyped or worse. Too often staff have brushed it off…it’s not clear if teachers were unwilling or unaware of how to handle these situations properly. Briana then praised student resource groups like ALO, Spectrum, and the Social Justice Club that provide support for students who are members of marginalized populations, and urged continued progress toward a safer and more equitable learning environment. .
Following his impassioned speech, statistics drawn from the survey data were released to council and the public. The results highlighted widespread student experiences of racially or sexually motivated bullying.
However, data points highlighting intersectionality were conspicuously absent – data was presented as individual categories (Black students, non-binary students) in a way that does not tell the full story of the experiences of students who are members more than one marginalized population.
There is so much more information that will be essential to advancing students who truly deserve an environment that allows them to be their best.
● What are the demographics of Linn-Mar Alternative High School called Compass compared to the demographics of Linn-Mar High School?
● What are the demographic characteristics of police intervention/suspension/detention rates?
● What are the demographics of faculty and staff?
● What policies and procedures are in place to deal with student safety issues based on discrimination?
● What resources are available to support students from marginalized communities experiencing trauma from discrimination in schools?
For at least one of these items, it seems that Briana has done her homework for us since she announced to us from the podium: “Of the thirty-two staff members identified as assistant directors, directors, administrators and managers, I found none. person of color. Among teachers and guidance counselors in elementary, secondary and other grades, eight of 549 staff have identified as people of color. Shouldn’t our staff be as diverse as our student population? »
Dragon Zheng spent his second year representing the district’s student body on the committee that worked with consultants to develop the survey at Linn-Mar. As co-chair, Dragon is responsible for helping lead the committee in advising the school board and administration on equity issues in the district – a topic that has had a direct impact on his own educational experience. He described being bullied and witnessing it as early as elementary school.
“Kids would exclude you from their social group, say ‘you can’t play with us.’ In middle school, I heard slurs about gender identity and sexual orientation, and slurs about Asians, Latinx, and black people — and white kids asking black students for an “n-word” pass. “”
I was in disbelief. “Wait – a ‘n-word’ pass?”
“Yeah – white students would ask black students to say they could say the n-word, then if they said no, they would bully the black student. I’m on the committee because I have real experience of the kinds of things that happen. I wanted to do this to help turn things around because I took care of it and my sister is taking care of it right now in Oak Ridge.
Dragon also lamented parents who actively oppose the work of the committee.
“During Transgender Awareness Week, they thought their kids were being pressured into becoming trans. Some said ‘we should start a white kids’ club’ not realizing that ALO is very diverse and open to all students. Some parents even said they were going to sue the school for talking about inclusion.
The committee presented themes created to guide their work that hint at a much stronger plan of action moving forward. The survey and initial report are certainly an indication of the progress of a district that has always struggled to address inequality. Work to improve equity can only be done effectively with true transparency and a willingness to learn, recognize shortcomings, apologize for missteps, engage and execute action steps for progress. These children deserve an environment where they can emerge as themselves and become the leaders we keep telling them they can be. There is no space or time for silence when suicide rates and depression are soaring among adolescents who are affected by both high-profile discriminatory legislation and the effects of discrimination, as well as by the educational ecosystem we foster here at home.
As Briana said, “It was important to speak up because students like me need to voice our opinions to make our school more welcoming and inclusive. Sometimes people can’t speak for themselves – I would like to be the voice to defend them and help them use their own voice to advocate for change in the district as well.
Sofia DeMartino is a member of the editorial staff of the Gazette. Comments: [email protected]