For weeks, Greg Johnson, head of the NAACP Valley branch, has criticized the Shelton school district’s handling of several high-profile incidents of ‘racially insensitive’ behavior among students.

On Wednesday night, School Superintendent Chris Clouet presented a report to the Board of Education announcing a series of initiatives meant to address the fallout from those incidents.

Clouet’s report included the creation of a high school multicultural ambassadors’ program; additional diversity training for faculty; and plans for a Town Hall-style workshop for families co-facilitated by representatives of the Anti-Defamation League and NAACP.

Johnson, who has called for a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on racism, said that’s not enough.

“It’s time for the Shelton community to take a stance against the racial injustices that are targeting minorities,” Johnson, who spoke during Wednesday’s board meeting, said. “It is unjust to criminalize our children who defend themselves against racism in the Shelton School district but allow their oppressors to remain unpunished.”

Clouet said his job as the superintendent — and for all in the district as educators — is to prepare students to have the necessary tools to survive and thrive as adults.

“That includes technical skills; it also means cultivating the social emotional disposition to interact with and collaborate with others,” said Clouet. “It means treating people with respect.”

But Johnson called Clouet’s action plans “a reactionary and boiler plate diversity plan that will not address institutional racism.”

The district’s actions are in response to two incidents involving intermediate school students. The first 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. This led to NAACP members holding a rally in front of SIS prior to a Board of Education meeting last month.

The next incident occurred on Oct. 11, when 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.

Johnson said he was unhappy that Shelton schools failed to bring assault charges against the student who spit on the African American person during the Washington, D.C., field trip. He said another student was not suspended or charged for spitting in the face of an 8-year-old student riding the bus, an incident Johnson adds was seen by staff and is on camera.

“How can these hate crimes and assaults continue to go unpunished by the school system?” asked Johnson. “The Shelton school district needs to create a policy that all hate crimes will be punished by, suspension, expulsion and, or arrest.”

Johnson recommends the school district spend the rest of the school year developing racial bias protocol for all students and staff. In addition, Johnson said the district should hire diversity consultants and require all teachers to attend on professional development days.

"This school district should have diversity workshops for parents,” said Johnson. “It is only a few white students who are spitting and wearing black face, but where are the white parents who are outraged? It’s the silent majority that allows oppression to exist.”

Clouet said the district has created a group of multicultural ambassadors at SHS. This diverse group will be trained by a diversity expert on how to work with younger students, in an age-appropriate way, on cultural diversity and social justice, said Clouet, adding that the Intermediate school will have a similar group.

“This will result in older children having conversations with younger kids in a way that will open minds, and not make anyone defensive,” said Clouet.

The superintendent said there are several other things underway for students which will be reported on in future updates.

For staff, Clouet said there will be follow-up training for teachers and staff on the complexity of serving a diverse group of students; part of that includes learning how to talk about these difficult situations if they occur and learning how to guide students in the right direction when issues arise in the classroom, on the playground, or on the bus.

“Last year, we started the anti-bias committee of teachers and administrators in the wake of a blackface incident that was hurtful and a swastika incident here in Shelton,” said Clouet. “Part of that work will lead to improved school climate and policy recommendations.”

In addition, Clouet said the district has formed a “vibrant intergenerational diversity group of parents and students. They have good ideas, and we talk, and we listen to each other.”

Clouet said that this year’s Shelton Showcase will feature a theme of diversity where our students will share the music, art, food, and more, of our multicultural school district and community.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com