BURLINGTON - The school district’s Equity Committee is continuing to work towards appropriately implementing modernized cultural competency.
The committee, which consists of Burlington High School students and various school officials, has devised an Action Plan for achieving goals of equity in the district. The Equity Committee has been functioning for the past two years, but things have really picked up steam in the last three months with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The newest components of the Action Plan call for hiring anti-racists educators and more educators of color; creating an inclusive working environment for educators of color; making sure the entire staff is training in equitable practices; and establishing protocol for addressing students using racial slurs in person or on social media, which recently took place among Burlington students on a social media website.
In hopes of achieving these lofty goals, the Equity Committee is asking school officials to move forward with the hiring of a director to help see the aforementioned objectives come to fruition.
Sara Shaikh, a Burlington High School student and student representative on the School Committee and Equity Committee, contextualized the situation before the School Committee.
“There is a lot of work to be done. If we want to get it done, we need to prioritize them by hiring a director of diversity, equity and inclusion,” declared Shaikh during the virtual School Committee meeting. “It would be a permanent district position with the responsibility of leading Burlington into a journey where all students feel safe and represented and respected in our schools. I urge the School Committee to make this a priority for the 2020-21 school year.”
Martha Duffield, spokesperson for the Burlington Against Racism group, read a formal letter from the group to the committee, urging them to follow through and hire the aforementioned director position by the start of this upcoming school year.
School Committee member Carl Foss avowed his support for the letter and its objective.
“I feel like we should pursue this with as much speed as possible,” he remarked. “Other school districts will be looking to fill similar positions, so if we want to avail ourselves of the best candidates, we should make this as high on the priority list as we can.”
Though all the school officials are firmly in support of the initiative to hire such a director, the only hangup is figuring out a way for the new full-time position to fit into this year’s budget, which has been hindered because of the financial impacts on revenue from the novel coronavirus.
“I do not disagree with the value of the position, but we have some practical issues with our budget,” advised School Committee member Thomas Murphy, Jr., noting the position is obviously not in the budget right now. “We are in a position where we might have to cut back on our budgets, due to the coronavirus.”
John Iler, a Ways & Means member, further expounded on Murphy’s comments, detailing possible solutions on how to fit the new position into the budget.
“I appreciate [Murphy] taking the tough stance that we just cannot casually add positions right now. The reality is our current budget, after COVID-19, has left us in a situation where we have to ask ourselves, ‘What do we do if our revenues take a substantial hit?’” Iler considered. “The reality is, this is important, but what is it more important than, that you are willing to exchange for it?”
By exchange, Iler means a position currently in the School Department’s Operating Budget will have to be replaced by this new director position, as it is just not feasible to add a full-time position into the budget as constituted today without making a positional concession.
Duffield made her case as to why the committee needs to do everything they can to make this director position a reality sooner than later.
“35 percent of our population in Burlington identifies as non-white, which is an important demographic statistic to remember when you are making these decisions. When we talk about this, it is important for us to be sensitive to those being treated unfairly and hurt by systemic issues of racism because it is very different when you are on one side of those comments from the other,” observed Duffield. “I would love to make sure all students feel safe in the community.”
The School Committee was decisively in agreement with Duffield’s comments, so the next step is for School Supt. Dr. Eric Conti to create a formal job description for the desired director position for the committee’s next meeting.
“I agree with the urgency and importance of this position,” insisted Dr. Conti. “[Iler] is right, though, we are going to have to substitute a position in our budget.”
Expect to see a full job description for the director position outlined at the committee’s next meeting on Aug. 18.