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Anti-racism coalition marches in Burlington ahead of school board meeting to adopt anti-racism policies

Posted at 9:02 PM, Nov 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-30 23:26:01-05

BURLINGTON — The Burlington Area School Board adopted new anti-racism policies at a special virtual meeting Monday night, while a local activist group marched through town demanding the board hear them.

The Burlington Coalition to Dismantle Racism hosted a peaceful prayer vigil at Echo Park in downtown Burlington ahead of Monday's meeting. Dozens turned out to show support. Several ministers from different churches spoke, as well as other members of the coalition.

"We will be heard, we have a right to be heard," said Darnisha Garbade, who leads the Coalition. "Our children need us not to remain silent."

Then the group caravaned past the homes of school board members because organizers said they weren't allowed to speak at Monday night's meeting.

Public comment was not listed on the meeting's agenda, and a spokesperson for the district told TMJ4 News there typically isn't a public comment session in special meetings like Monday's, and that public comment happens during the regular meetings on the second Monday of the month.

The board met in person to discuss the anti-racism policies with the Coalition on Nov. 9, but the meeting was shut down after protesters took over.

The board met virtually for a special meeting a week later for a first reading of the anti-racism policy. A spokesperson for the district wrote TMJ4 in an email, "The school board considers this work important and urgent. They wanted to proceed with adopting an anti-racist policy that addresses all harassment of students."

The spokesperson added the district shifted to all virtual learning from Nov. 11-29, and the board can choose to meet virtually.

Superintendent Steve Plank said the board had been working to revise all of its policies since the beginning of the year, and hired Neola, a prominent school policy consulting company, for that process.

The board unanimously approved the policies Monday night. The new anti-harassment/anti-racism policy includes a purpose statement that first reads in part, "The Burlington Area School District and Board reject all forms of racism." The policy also defines anti-racism, individual racism and systemic racism.

"Children need to learn tolerance and appreciation of diversity," said board member Diane Wood. "BASD is taking steps to make this happen, but this needs to happen not just at school but at home and in the community."

Board member Peter Turke thanked Garbade and the Coalition for coming to the board with their concerns and proposals.

Several members of the board agreed the policies are just one step in the process, and said there is more to do when it comes to equity, such as adopting anti-racist regulations.

Garbade says the new policy is a "general bullying policy" with eight sentences from the policy the Coalition came up with in April.

"That is not an anti-racism policy, it's a bullying policy with eight sentences from an anti-racism policy, six of which are only definitions of anti-racism words," Garbade said.

Throughout the fall, Superintendent Steve Plank has issued statements regarding reported racist incidents at several schools in the district. In some cases the district alerted the police.

A former Burlington student says he's disgusted, and he says he doesn't want any student of color to feel this way.

"There were a lot of times when I felt alone, and I didn’t understand how to process those feelings because the majority of this population is white," Preston Allred said.

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