U-CF board member responds about his resignation01/17/2017 12:31PM ● By J. Chambless
Letter to the Editor:
I remained stunned and dumbfounded by our continuing unwillingness to honor the heartfelt requests from several of our minority parents who asked us, following the election, to send a letter to everyone in our community condemning in no uncertain terms intimidation of our minority students and offering our strongest commitment to support diversity and tolerance at the UCFSD.
I was deeply disappointed to learn that our superintendent apparently told a minority parent that there is nothing the district can do to address their concerns in the absence of a specific and formal complaint that would be handled by our bullying policy. Actually, that is simply not true. We could do what many other school districts did following the election, as did the superintendent at Radnor. That is, we could start by sending a letter to every member of our community similar to the one that the Radnor superintendent sent. I quote from the Radnor superintendent’s letter: “Dear RTSD Community, As you know. The results of last week’s election elicited a variety of emotions. In light of recent disturbing news reports regarding harassment of certain groups of students at local and national colleges and secondary schools, it is important for you to know how Radnor Township School District strives to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all students and staff members in all buildings. First and foremost, the district and its schools will not tolerate any behavior or symbol that threatens or intimidates any of our students or staff members. No student or staff member should ever feel unsafe as a result of who they are or how they think.”
We could follow up the letter by doing what Radnor did, and take the steps to develop a diversity plan that includes training in diversity for all employees and all school board directors. Again I quote from the Radnor superintendent’s letter to the community: “One of the district’s core values is the belief that respecting and valuing diversity is essential for communities to survive. Last school year this belief was underscored with the launch of 'RTSD Project Diversity,' an initiative specifically focused on developing and executing a district-wide diversity/equity/inclusion plan and program. Among other activities, the project will include training for administrators, staff members, students, parents, School Board members and community leaders.”
We could do both, but we haven’t, and it doesn’t look like we will. Given this, it would have been more accurate to have said to that parent. “We could send a letter to every member of our community condemning intimidation and lauding our commitment to diversity, but we have decided not to. We could hold one or more community meetings to discuss this topic, but we have decided not to. We could develop a community wide diversity plan that includes School Board members but we have decided not to.”
This outcome leads me to ask each of you a number of questions: What is it about the requests of these parents who are worried about the safety of their children in our schools that you don’t understand? Have you no compassion for them or their concerns? Do you not have the common decency to comfort them in this difficult time for them? Are you unwilling to take just a few minor steps to comfort them because you have never felt the sting of discrimination?
I have felt that sting and let me tell you it hurts. It hurts because discrimination/intimidation based on ascriptive characteristics (such as the color of your skin, your religion or your social class) devalues one as a human being.
I had hoped to stay on the Board until the end of my term to continue this and other fights. At our last Board meeting, I made a number of recommendations regarding this issue and I was prepared to ask for up and down votes on each of them. I was also prepared to ask that we invite each of the principals from each of our schools to future meetings to inform us (a) about what they and their school are doing to fight intimidation and promote diversity and tolerance; and (b) about what they and their school have done since the election to reassure our minority parents and protect our minority students.
Events of the past several weeks and months have led me to realize that this is a fruitless activity and so I have decided that: I cannot and will not serve on a Board that does not have the common decency to comfort our minority parents in these trying times, especially since it is so easy and simple to do. There are times when it is important to stand up to racism and bigotry, even the quiet and unspoken kind that we are experiencing here, and say no. ... I don’t normally quote famous people, but I read a comment by one in an editorial by a very conservative editorial writer for the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin. She was quoting what Meryl Streep said at the Golden Globes. Ms. Streep said, 'There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.'
I include this quote here because it is all too shockingly similar to what one of our minority parents said to me about our community. She said (and I’m paraphrasing), there has always been an undertone of discrimination here, but with the election it has come out into the open because it has been legitimized by Trump. It is now acceptable.
I fear, along with notable others, that our silence on this issue will only breed more intolerance. I urge the Board and the District to speak out now and to speak out forcefully to defend diversity and tolerance before it is too late, but I have little to no faith that you will.
Michael T. Rock
Unionville Chadds Ford School Board Director