Members of Scottsbluff Public School’s Board of Education heard from a student and an alumnus expressing concerns about challenges faced by non-white students.
Graduate Josiah Gonzales spoke first.
“I, as a concerned non-Black alumnus from Scottsbluff High School am disappointed,” he said. “I am disappointed because many of you have failed to take the role of a board member in its entirety.”
He explained that in their role, board members are expected to be leaders, mentors and role models.
“As board members who represent programs with a commitment to social justice, you have a responsibility to black students to openly and loudly affirm that they are safe in an academic setting from racism and discrimination,” Gonzales said.
He continued, “… black lives have been traumatized repeatedly and yet are expected to show up in meetings, research and academic spaces as though things are business as usual, while the black community is quite literally fighting for its life.”
Protests have been taking place across the country following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died following a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck. While protests in large cities have gained attention, many smaller communities including Scottsbluff, have had groups take to the streets in solidarity.
“Although you are familiar with the black community here, in primiarly academic settings, many of your non-black and black students are protesting in the streets, constantly providing resources, supporting others and grieving. Black and non-black students in your schools are risking their lives, safety and careers daily to really stand against white supremacy in the midst of a global pandemic.”
How is the board supporting them, he asked, and what is being done in the district to fight racism? Turning a blind eye and pretending current events don’t have an impact on the local community is doing a “deep disservice,” he said.
Senior Josie Amoo was one of last week’s protestors. In addition to standing on the corner of 27th Street and Avenue I, she’s been reaching out to law makers, signing petitions and making donations.
“But through all of this work, I have been more acutely aware of racial injustices I have experienced in school settings, past and present,” she said.
As she protested, the reactions of students, parents and district staff members were “at times, unpleasant to say the least,” leading her to question her safety in the future.
She said she feels as though she has done a lot for SBPS during her time in the school system, but now, she said she’s uneasy.
“I am disappointed and unsettled at the fact that the district has not raised awareness and provided aid to students of color and their families,” Amoo said. “Scottsbluff Public Schools, now more than ever, is in a prime position to advocate for its minority students.”
She suggested the board consider implementing training regarding racism in the classroom, as well as support for students who have been affected by it. She told the board that the district needs to reach out to students of color and hold students who’ve committed racist acts accountable for their actions. A zero-tolerance policy needs to be put into place, she said.
Change is coming, she said, and the district needs to be able to support its students.
“I am willing to help the school in any way I can, but it is not my job to educate and explain my unpleasant encounters regarding race, gender and religious beliefs at Scottsbluff High School,” she said. “It all starts with you all.”
Board member Lori Browning asked if she could make a comment before moving onto the next agenda item.
“I thank both of you for having the courage to tell us what you think and that you think our actions are insufficient, I do appreciate that,” she said. “You are absolutely right and I think that we as a school board do need to do our part in this.”
She acknowledged that speaking up was difficult. She told them she was proud of them, and that she hopes the district will be able to implement changes that will make them proud.
Ruth Kozal, vice-president of the board, also spoke up on the issue, reading a statement she’d prepared prior to the meeting. Seniors are having a long-awaited graduation ceremony this month, she said, and then they will be heading to the next chapter.
“I hope we have prepared them as best we can for the joys and challenges they will be facing,” she said. “While dealing will all the aspects coronavirus has dealt us, we recenty became painfully reminded of some of the ugliness that exists in this world.”
Kozal pointed to the beginning of the meeting, when everyone stood in front of their computers to say the Pledge of Allegiance. “Liberty and justice for all” is a strong statement.
“I’ve often viewed this as rhetoric, like people thinks it’s a done deal,” she said. “It’s not rhetoric at all – it is a challenge for all of us … because it starts with all of us.”
Following Kozal, superintendent Rick Myles broke into the discussion to say he’d like to meet with both Amoo and Gonzales to discuss their experiences and what the district is working toward with its climate transformation grant.
“I would love to hear more about what they’re thinking,” he said. “I’d be happy then to inform the board upon our conversation and we could perhaps put this on the board agenda with the board support next month and maybe have a more lengthy conversation.”
SHS principal Justin Shaddick said he’d also like to be part of the discussion.
Action taken during the meeting included the approval of the Bear Cub and PAWS calendars for the 2020-21 school year and the adoption of a new textbook for Intro to Health. The board also had its annual review of the anti-bullying policy, heard a presentation regarding the planned procedures for graduation, and received an overview of the results of the districts e-learning survey.
PHOTOS: Scottsbluff demonstration 2020
Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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