Calls for anti-racist programs for students at all levels and closing opportunity gaps
At its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 17, the Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt an anti-racism policy that articulates the district’s strong position against systemic and institutional racism and calls for an action-oriented approach to eliminating racism and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in our schools.
Board of Education Policy No. 3450, Anti-Racism Policy, will be added to the district’s Policy Manual immediately. It is the result of an increasing focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in the district and was also prompted by input from students and teachers.
As part of the policy, the district commits to anti-racist programs and training, correcting practices that perpetuate opportunity gaps, and encourages “every decision-making group in the district to recommend additional anti-racist practices within the school district to the board policy committee.”
“We are prepared to lead and support this work, but also recognize that as a district and a society, everyone has a role,” said Board President Howard Schlossberg. “It is so important to this Board, and those we serve, to ensure that every student is able to grow and thrive and no student experiences hate or discrimination. We also recognize the pivotal role that schools play in a just society. This policy is an important marker of our commitment to all of these efforts.”
In order to achieve the goals of the policy, it states that the district will implement anti-racist programs for students at all levels, provide opportunities for bias awareness and anti-racist training districtwide, identify and address barriers that prevent the District from increasing the diversity in district employment and programs and review curriculum, instructional materials and resources to ensure the inclusion of racially and culturally relevant content.
The policy states that racist symbols, such as the confederate flag, Nazi swastikas and symbols of the Ku Klux Klan, that actually disrupt or are reasonably forecasted to disrupt the learning environment will not be tolerated. It notes that display of such imagery on school grounds has disrupted the learning environment in the past.
“We condemn racism, hate speech, violence, and bias in all forms,” Policy Committee Member and Board Vice President Kimberly Tully said in introducing the resolution authorizing the policy. “We acknowledge that a need exists to remove barriers that hinder our district from increasing the diversity of staff and we will work to dismantle systemic racism in our schools and to openly talk, challenge and confront racism and inequities.”
The policy follows diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the district in recent years, such as:
- Actively seeking feedback from students of color about their experiences in the school district;
- Establishing an Office of Equity, with Chief Equity Officer Latisha Barnett currently leading the development of a strategic plan in this area;
- Generation Ready Equity Institute Training for a cohort of approximately 50 teachers and administrators;
- Niskayuna schools achieving No Place for Hate designation; and
- The development of District Diversity Goals by a team of district and community stakeholders.
The new policy distinguishes between anti-racist – opposing racist actions and ideas on a more individualized basis – and anti-racism, which means committing to supporting policies and expressing ideas that work to dismantle systematic discrimination through institutional practices.
“We know that for too long our institutions, including schools, have perpetuated gaps in opportunities and outcomes,” said Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. “I firmly believe that education can and will play a role in correcting this and leading us forward, and quite honestly I am so proud to work with a Board of Education that has made this a centerpiece of our efforts for the students of today and the society we hope for tomorrow.”