BAR HARBOR — The list of things the Mount Desert Island Regional School System has been and is doing to promote “diversity, inclusion, social justice, anti-bias and anti-racism” is more than two pages long, single spaced.
But the schools need to see if there is more they could and should be doing, according to Superintendent Marc Gousse and Julie Meltzer, the school system’s director of curriculum, assessment and instruction.
“There’s a lot of work to be done to make our society just and fair for everyone,” Meltzer said. “And the most important things the schools can do (involve) teaching students to talk to one another and have civil discourse and to make sure that whatever they’re studying or seeing includes multiple stories, includes people from many different backgrounds and settings. We need to help all of our kids understand the danger in a single story.”
Addressing racism has taken on greater importance and new urgency for the schools in the wake of revelations by a Black MDI High School student earlier this month that he has routinely experienced racial bigotry at school. That has led to calls from students, parents and others in the community for the schools to do more to combat racial bias.
“We want to make sure our students are part of an environment that is free of bullying, harassment and discrimination,” Gousse said.
“There is no excuse for not handling situations that we are aware of, absolutely none. What’s unfortunate is that things may occur that we are not aware of. Hopefully, this [current public focus on racism] can cultivate more of an awareness, for people to feel safe and respected and that they can come forward and know that we want to eradicate that in our schools.
“I do believe we’re moving in a positive direction,” Gousse said. “Is it fast enough? Certainly not. Do we have a lot of work to do? Absolutely.”
He said everything from the curricula and educational materials to teacher training and school policies must be continually evaluated to make sure they are in keeping with the values the schools want to instill.
“We need to make sure that our policies reflect who we are,” Gousse said. “If they don’t, if there are fundamental changes we need to consider, that work needs to be done in the days and weeks to come.”
While acknowledging that these are challenging times for schools, as they are for society as a whole, Gousse and Meltzer said they also bring unique opportunities.
“The purpose of public education is to provide the opportunity for young people to become productive and positive and contributing members of society. Here’s a great opportunity to help advance that,” Gousse said.
Meltzer added, “We have an opportunity to move forward in many areas that could make a real difference, and I think that’s exciting.”