BAR HARBOR — An Anti-Racism Task Force has been created by Mount Desert Island Regional School System Superintendent Marc Gousse, an action that the school system board endorsed unanimously Monday night.
Last month, the MDI Racial Justice Collective issued a list of actions the schools should take to combat racism, including the creation of a task force to implement those actions and “to field concerns about structural contributors to racism in the school system.”
Gousse worked with students and others to write a charter for the Anti-Racism Task Force. It stipulates that the task force will have 17 members: five students, four teachers, three school administrators, two guidance counselors and one ed tech.
Gousse will select the members of the task force after reviewing applications from those who volunteer to serve.
The task force is to meet twice a month, starting in September.
According to the charter, the Anti-Racism Task Force will address each of the proposals in the MDI Racial Justice Collective’s petition. Those include: “a curriculum that addresses the origins of racism and its modern manifestations and teaches from a multicultural perspective; mandatory anti-racism training for all staff; a school system that is as racially diverse as possible, specifically within the staff; an improved system for addressing incidents of racism; recommend solutions for instances of structurally permitted racism in schools as they are brought forward by members of the MDI community.”
The task force is to report on its work to the school system board every year.
A link to the complete charter for the new Anti-Racism Task Force is on the school system’s website.
More than 600 people have signed an online petition in support of the MDI Racial Justice Collective’s demands, and 77 people have written letters of support to the school board. The writers included current and former students, parents, teachers and other community members.
Three members of the school board spent nearly two and a half hours reading the letters into the record at the board’s meeting Monday night.
“While I was a student at MDIHS, several teachers and substitute teachers allowed, encouraged and started racist discussion,” wrote MDI High School alumna Isabel Erickson. “These actions normalize and encourage racism. I encourage you to listen to the students who are proposing ideas to combat racism at MDIHS.”
MDI High student Sophia Anderson wrote: “Racism is a huge, huge part of society, and it is a hard topic to talk about, but that just makes it even more crucial that it be mandatory to teach and confront in our school systems, because, for some kids, what they learn at school may the extent of their knowledge.”
Another MDI High student, Ayano Ishimura, wrote, “Although I am not Black and will never understand the struggles that the Black community face day to day, my siblings and I, being Asian American, have personally dealt with racist and harmful comments at the school…I believe that a stronger anti-racist education starting in elementary school will help students become aware of their racial biases and allow for a more safe and non-racist environment for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) to comfortably learn.”
Laura MacDonald wrote, “I… implore you to go beyond discussion and fully embrace the demands of the students and community for a more anti-racist MDIRSS. Working for an anti-racist school system, including the curriculum, will require significant time, energy and resources. It will entail difficult discussions and decisions. It will not be an easy task, but it is beyond necessary.”
MacDonald is the mother of Charlie Parker, the MDI High student who gave a speech at a Black Lives Matter rally in Bar Harbor early last month in which he talked about experiencing racism at school and who helped galvanize the local anti-racism movement.
“The courage that my son found to voice his own experiences and those of his fellow students has given me both strength and hope as we fight for racial justice…,” MacDonald said in her letter to the school board.
“Please, do not waste any time. MDIRSS must implement the necessary changes so that any student, regardless of their skin color, feels respected, welcomed and of value at every school in the system.”
Kate Macko, the mother of an elementary school student, wrote, “It is our job to seize this particular moment and dismantle racist systems, habits, blind spots and vocabularies in order to rebuild a more just community…Collectively, we must prepare our children to recognize racism when they see it…and give them the language, skills and confidence to abolish it.”
Vanessa Little, a physician and mother of two young children, wrote, “I support the idea that the school system should commit to engaging more educators of color in order to provide the necessary representation and perspectives that are currently lacking from our schools.”