CT education agencies respond to racial incidents

Photo of Brian Gioiele

Days after the latest high-profile incident of “racially insensitive” behavior by Connecticut students, three state educational agencies have issued a joint statement addressing students’ right to a safe, non-threatening school environment.

In the statement, the state Department of Education, the Connecticut Association of Board of Education and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents said that districts must “foster environments that ensure equity, diversity and inclusion.”

The comments come in response to several high-profile incidents involving students in Connecticut schools — two of which involved Shelton Intermediate School students.

“We plan to work together to ensure districts are supported and have the necessary tools needed to promote environments safe from bias,” the statement reads. “Preparing students to become productive members of society includes teaching about respecting diversity and creating a sense of community.”

The first incident involving intermediate school students came a month ago, when a photo of a female student wearing blackface hit Snapchat. The girls involved apologized, but no other punishment was given.

Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel A. Cardona met with students at the school during a recent tour of its School of Innovation. Just days after that visit, on Oct. 11, a white student spit on a black person at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Principal Dina Marks said the student’s actions — which led to the group of 100 students being kicked out of the museum — were inappropriate and immature but not racially motivated.

“This is a positive sign that, as a state, we are coming together to look at issues of bias,” said school Superintendent Chris Clouet. “We need to make this a teachable moment in this state. I also want to dispel this false notion that Shelton is ground zero for racism. We need to move past that and look at this with a statewide set of initiatives and actions.

In response to the incidents involving intermediate school students, Clouet said a student ambassador program is being created to have older students visit younger ones to talk about cultural awareness and social justice. Plans to hold a community forum and diversity training for students and adults at the intermediate school are ongoing.

NAACP Valley branch President Greg Johnson has criticized the Shelton school district’s response as poor and minimal, at best.

“We need a commitment from Shelton that these actions will be addressed swiftly and in a manner that says clearly that any disrespectful, racially motivated acts of hate and violence will not be tolerated,” Johnson said.

Johnson said zero tolerance is required, and “that includes ongoing sensitivity training for students, school staff, elected officials and town employees along with intense recruitment of minority administrators and teachers.”

Leaders from CSDE, CAPSS and CABE will be meeting soon to identify steps necessary to provide resources, guidance and technical assistance for districts.

“Together, as leaders, let’s embrace this opportunity to create learning environments where all students feel valued, respected and safe to learn and grow,” the groups said in the statement.