School board member Lynne Jaunich, during a March 16 Champlain Valley School District meeting, apologized for her handling of an issue one month earlier.
“It wasn’t my intent to silence anyone or provide inequitable opportunities, but that happened and it resulted in harm to members of our BIPOC community for which I am terribly sorry,” Janunich said as she fought back tears. “I have a lot of work to do personally and together with the board if we’re going to interrupt racism and promote equity in our district.”
Around 65 people attended the school board’s Zoom meeting on Feb. 16, many of whom had logged on to express displeasure with the hiring process for a director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
During the meeting Jorge Rios, a kindergarten paraeducator at Allen Brook School, said the school system’s notice seeking applicants listed duties that didn’t pertain to diversity, equity and inclusion.
He said it was like advertising for someone to paint your house who finds, when they show up for work, “you need someone to paint the house, clean, walk the dog, take care of your kids, do the laundry and do your taxes,” Rios said. “That’s exactly what happened with the job position in July 2020.”
The school system’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion, quit on July 7, 2020, less than a week after starting in the position.
Rhiannon Kim started work on July 1, 2020, and said after leaving six days later, she had declined the school system’s offer.
Privilege vs. pacing?
At the February meeting, Ainaku Luna, a Spanish teacher at Hinesburg Community School, said requiring a graduate degree for the director of diversity, equity and inclusion position diminished the value of experience and reinforced white privilege.
As Luna spoke, Jaunich interrupted her to say comments were supposed to be limited to two minutes and there were a lot of people who wanted to talk.
“We have a very full agenda tonight and this can’t take up the entire meeting,” Jaunich said.
She reminded attendees the decision about the director of diversity, equity and inclusion hiring is one the school system administration will make, not the school board. Further conversation about the topic, Jaunich suggested, should be placed on the agenda for another board meeting.
Board member Erin Brady said she was concerned about how time had been managed at the meeting with some people not being allowed to talk as long as others.
“I’m concerned about the standards or norms of a white supremacy culture we might be upholding as a board when we’re very careful about time for some people and other people are not held to that same standard,” Brady said.
On March 16, superintendent Elaine Pinckney said the search committee had just finished the first round of interviews with candidates for the director of diversity, equity and inclusion. Pinckney said 23 candidates would be narrowed down to three.
The search committee includes two school board members, two administrators, two teachers, two community members, a member of the central office staff and a student. Five of the members of the search committee are members of the BIPOC community, Pinckney said.
The superintendent also said all of the school system’s seventh and eighth graders will be in school for instruction three or four days a week by the middle of April.
A group of parents spoke out for returning seventh and eighth graders to in-school instruction at the school board meeting on March 3, arguing the risk of catching COVID was less than the mental health damage being done to students by being out of school.
Williston Central School’s seventh and eighth graders will go to four days of in-school instruction a week starting April 6.
Shelburne Community School is getting input from parents in deciding whether to go to three or four days of in-school instruction, Pinckney said.
Charlotte Central School has already shifted to four days a week of in-school instruction for seventh and eighth graders and Hinesburg Central School will make this change on March 29.