BAR HARBOR — A group of Mount Desert Island High School students is asking community members to sign an online letter urging the school system to take concrete action to combat racism and promote racial equality.
The letter lists 11 steps the schools should take. These include:
Altering the curriculum “to cover the history of racism in this country and how it translates to modern society;”
Including anti-racism training as “a mandatory part of professional development for all faculty and administrators;”
Considering “alternative security measures to a police officer;”
Hiring “more educators of color to provide the necessary representation and perspectives that are currently lacking from our schools;” and
Establishing “a clear system of classifying, reporting, punishing and educating after incidents of racial discrimination in any form.”
The current procedures for handling discrimination, the letter states, is “long, involved and ineffective.”
The students’ recommendations for combating racism in the schools come in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of a black man at the hands of police in Minneapolis late last month. The issue was brought much closer to home by Charlie Parker, a black student at MDI High School, who spoke at a Black Lives Matter rally in Bar Harbor on June 7. He talked of experiencing overt racism at school, especially in the football locker room.
School Superintendent Marc Gousse immediately sent a letter to students and parents in which he said the school system “proudly stands with those Americans who denounce racism and the injustices [that] continue to plague our society.”
He said the schools “remain committed to a safe teaching and learning environment [that] teaches respect, civility, responsibility and emphasizes student-led inquiry and voice.”
At the start of their letter asking the schools to take stronger and more specific action, the students acknowledged Gousse’s statement.
“We thank you for taking this first step in fighting for racial equality,” they wrote.
“However, we feel the school system can do more in terms of action towards that goal.”
Gousse told the Islander on Tuesday, “I look forward to working with the students and staff to address this issue. We are going to be providing some information in the coming weeks that will help educate our community as to what we’re doing and what we hope to continue to do.”
The students who drafted the letter to Gousse are also the ones who organized the June 7 Black Lives Matter rally. They are Sihori Kumar, Alex Burnett and Parker.
Keri Hayes, the mother of a high school student and a middle school student and a member of the high school trustees, has sent a letter to Gousse in which she thanked him for his anti-racism statement, but said more needs to be done.
“We all like to think that we live in an idyllic community where everyone supports each other,” she wrote. “I believe this is true for the majority of people the majority of the time.
“But the stories that Charlie [Parker] told…brought tears of anger and shame to many in the crowd [at the Black Lives Matter rally]. This is not a far–away problem in a far–away city. This is…present right here in the community where we live.”
Hayes said she was calling on administrators, teachers and everyone else in the schools to “be better.”
“Let’s get more non-white literature and history into our curriculum. Let’s see more information about teaching anti-racism coming home to parents to share with their children and their elders. And let’s have a no–tolerance policy for students who use hateful language or actions and, especially, for teachers, administrators and staff who ignore it,” Hayes wrote.