Dear Principal Wilson and Superintendent Provost,
First and foremost, we want to acknowledge that this is a time of deep grief in the NPS community.
The impetus for this email is the latest expression of racism at JFK, which adds to the fear and vulnerability many are already experiencing. We appreciate and thank you for the timely acknowledgement of and communication about the racist graffiti. We are also encouraged by the Forum work, STAND UP JFK, and the overall focus on inclusivity at the school.
That said, we would like clarification about the district response referenced in the letter sent to JFK caregivers. Although we understand the need for consequences, we want to ensure a more systemic response to the ongoing racism in our schools than what is suggested in the letter. Focusing solely on individual offenders rather than on cultural shifts and community repair won’t reflect the restorative approach to conflict resolution outlined in the district’s new Code of Conduct. Racism is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed as a community.
We believe it is crucial to take meaningful action without delay. Families have continued to reach out to REAL (Racial Equity and Learning) about incidents of racism in our schools, including in recent days following the latest discovery of racist graffiti at JFK. We have communicated with many stakeholders across the district who feel increasingly hurt, angry, and silenced. In your letter to families, you note that “we will guide the deep work of repair and restitution.” We are eager to hear your current plan and timeline to begin that work and start building relational trust within the middle school and across our district. What we most need as a school community is to come together to reflect, share concerns, and discuss how we can work toward safer, more inclusive schools for everyone.
REAL is available to support district efforts toward this repair. Below are some suggested resources, including a guide for responding to racism in schools and a local consultant who has provided anti-bias training to NPS employees in the past. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you would like to collaborate with REAL around interrupting and addressing racism in our schools.
Regardless, we would appreciate hearing from you by the first week of March about how the district plans to engage in the work of repair, so that we can assure community members who contact us that there will be clear pathways for healing and trust building.
Deborah Keisch, Jenny Bender, and Tom Chang
(REAL co-leaders on behalf of REAL Northampton)
Liz Pryor, a Smith professor and parent of NPS students, does research on the “n-word” and recently gave a Ted talk, The N-Word in the Classroom. If shared with members of the school community, the talk may help NPS parents, teachers, and students reflect on the power this word can have and the harm it can cause.