Coalition seeks to stem racism through education in local school district

By Jason Arndt

Staff Writer

An online petition calling on the Burlington Area School District to address systemic racism and update its black history curriculum has drawn hundreds of signatures.

According to the petition, as of Monday, 426 had signed on to support the changes in the letter addressed to the district and Board of Education.

The petition was crafted by a relatively new group known as Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism.

Darnisha Garbade, President of the group, started the grassroots organization after her daughter experienced racism while attending Dyer Intermediate School.

Garbade, a Chicago native, told the Standard Press on June 2 her 11-year-old has been called the N-word on a regular basis by white students.

Melissa Statz, a 2008 Burlington High School graduate, presented the petition during Burlington’s first Juneteenth celebration June 19 at Echo Veterans Memorial Park.

Statz taught in Chicago before returning home to Burlington about three years ago and became a recent member of BCD Racism.

“We write to respectfully insist that BASD craft a comprehensive elementary, middle and high school curricula plan inclusive of black history and specifically addressing systemic racism and white privilege,” Statz recited.

“Conversations and education about endemic racism (i.e. the racist policies that have shaped and continue to shape this country) must not only take place in the streets of the United States, but also in primary and secondary educational institutions including the Burlington Area School. We have a responsibility to examine the roles that privilege and bias play within our own walls.”


District already at work

In February, the district held a diversity event for students, staff and community members who looked to garner a better understanding of different races.

Multiple black students spoke out, stating they have been followed around in grocery stores in the community, been victims of racial bias and racial slurs.

Incidents have also included micro aggressions, which are described as a statement or action that may be showing intentional or unintentional discrimination towards a certain racial ethnic group.

Superintendent Stephen Plank addressed these concerns to the Standard Press two weeks ago and alluded to the February diversity event.

The district, he said, has worked hard to create an inclusive school culture.

“For example, the student-led DRIVEN organization works with freshmen before they even start school to set expectations for a positive learning environment,” Plank said. “During the Diversity Awareness event on Feb. 25, students shared personal stories of when they felt targeted because of their race. Hearing their experiences made us understand that even if school leaders don’t hear about racial incidents, they happen and we have work to do.”

On June 2, during the height of national protests in response to George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, the district sent a letter to families supporting constructive and meaningful demonstrations.

“It is encouraging to see young people channel their frustration into creating awareness and trying to build greater understanding in order to find solutions,” Plank said.

Plank said diversity clubs are planned to be up and running by the fall at the middle and high schools, while the comprehensive school counseling model promotes acceptance of all, not just pertaining to race.

In levels K-8, school counselors deliver this lesson, which features the use of literature and social stories to cultivate conversations.

From the summer of 2019 through February 2020, the BASD has brought in speakers and developed leadership teams, all championing equity and cultural responsiveness.

To read the complete story see the June 25 edition of the Burlington Standard Press.