● Published by J. Chambless
By John Chambless
At a meeting that focused on the many positive aspects of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District as shown in the Annual Achievement Report, a concerned parent sparked a serious discussion for the school board about how minority students in the district are feeling threatened after the recent election of Donald Trump.
At the school board's Nov. 21 meeting at the refurbished Patton Middle School auditorium, a concerned mother of three children in district schools addressed the board during public comment.
Vandana Dubay said she was representing the county's Southeast Asian community. "Over the last couple of weeks, multiple issues have occurred in the schools and colleges across the region and the country," she said. "Kids who are in religious or ethnic minorities have been bullied. Here in our own schools, we have had several. As Southeast Asians, and as parents, we fear the threats that our children feel for their personal safety.
"These are not just random words that I'm pulling out of thin air," she continued. "These are related to real, and painful, episodes that have occurred right here in our own school district. A Muslim family from our school, whose family worked for the Clinton campaign, had a campaign sign in their window. They had rocks thrown at the window, and it was broken through. In our high school, a student who had a Clinton sticker on his water bottle was shoved and mocked for his political views. A student was shoved and asked if the student was Mexican, based on the views that he expressed. A student was told that not having a job would be easy, because he could always work at a 7-11. A student was repeatedly called a terrorist because of the religion he follows.
"This is not right. These are people that I know," Dubay continued. "Some of them are personal friends. The girl whose window was broken -- her father is a doctor. We are giving our best to this community and making this community our home. While we are at work, we should not be worrying about the safety of our kids at school. We request action to address our concerns now, and a plan of action going forward.
"I personally believe that this coutnry is not that different than it was three or four weeks ago," she said. "But right after the election, I felt very depressed and dejected. My kids should feel safe, and that they belong in these schools. Today, I call upon all of you good people to do the right thing. I put my trust in you."
School board president Victor Dupuis thanked Dubay, and asked, "Were the episodes you refer to reported to principals in those buildings? I would appreciate that if they haven't, then they would be. I would hope that our anti-bullying curriculum attends to these issues, just as much as it does to all the other issues of bullying that we're trying to attend to. We are a community that appreciates all our residents. Thank you for coming tonight."
At the close of the three-hour meeting, board member Michael Rock returned to the topic of ethnic intimidation, and thanked Dubay for coming forward. He also said he reviewed statements made by another parent at the previous week's board work session. "I went back over what she said several times," Rock said. "There is an underlying feeling of intimidation, and our kids feel it in school."
Rock said he was briefly in the hallway outside the auditorium when the group of concerned parents were leaving the meeting on Monday night, "and one of the men said he really likes what is happening around all the student test scores in the achievement report, but that he'd really like it if his kids feel safe here, and right now they don't."
District superintendent John Sanville interrupted, saying, "I encourage folks to come to the January curriculum meeting. We'll have the results of our school climate survey, and results from our students where they talk about how safe they feel. I've had many conversations with the community, with folks who have expressed concerns. And I've talked to them about specific issues. I can tell you that there's not a specific issue that has not been addressed. First of all, there haven't been many. But when they've been brought to us, they have been taken care of.
"I think it's irresponsible of us to suggest that they're not being addressed," Sanville continued. "We have folks who are concerned, and I can understand that. We also need to look at the data points and the positives of climate surveys we've conducted in all six of our buildings that say our kids feel safe, parents feel that their kids are safe, and staff feels safe. There's also data that says our community feels that we're respectful of diversity. I don't mean to wash away comments made today, or in other meetings over the last several weeks. I think we have a positive climate, a healthy climate, and one that is moving forward in a healthy manner.
"We, as a board, have an open-door policy. And the administration has an open-door policy," Sanville said. "I encourage everyone, if there are issues they feel are unresolved, to come and tell us and we will address them. We will listen to any comment that comes to us."
Rock said, "Can I continue? I don't think we're listening. I don't think we listened last week or this week. I think we're going to pay a price if we don't figure out how to listen better. I think it's a mistake to think we can solve this problem simply by pushing it into our bullying policy processes. We need to reach out to our minority community to find out how serious this problem is. Two weeks in a row now, two sets of parents came to us and said, 'We feel intimidated. I hope you can do something to help us.' And twice in a row, we've said, 'We're doing everything we can.' I just don't think that's right. I think that's a mistake. I think we'll pay for it down the road."
A video of the Nov. 21 meeting and all public meetings of the school board are posted on www.ucfsd.org
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email email@example.com.