Brookline School Committee listens to problems regarding racist incidents and plans course of action



BSC members Mariah Nobrega and Steven Ehrenberg presented a draft of a statement by the BSC displaying their reactions to recent racial incidents and actions they are taking to combat discrimination and improve the schools as a whole.

The Brookline School Committee (BSC) convened virtually via Zoom on March 20 at 4 p.m. for an emergency meeting to discuss the response to recent racist incidents at the high school and discuss potential reform policies.

The majority of the meeting consisted of the docketed public comment session where community members had the opportunity to make statements and recommendations directly to the BSC.

Junior Azavia Barsky-Elnour, who outlined steps for the BSC to take in their efforts towards diversity and equity in Jan., said the administration’s approach in addressing incidents has not been fair or productive.

“When a white student says the n-word, it cannot possibly affect the White community in the same way that it does the Black community, and addressing it as such is a disservice to our Black students,” Barsky-Elnour said. “We cannot afford for this pattern of brushing these incidents under the rug to happen again. We need decisive action, like a DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] subcommittee where we can express the incidents and the experiences that we are having while expecting accountability and transparency from our community.”

Brookline Educators Union (BEU) President Jessica Wender-Shubow said the BEU’s strategies in collective bargaining are aligned with the intentions and interests of having more representation in school staffing.

“The BEU is using collective bargaining to help eliminate structural barriers in our schools that leave bias on critical solutions, marginalized segregation and a growing wealth gap that widens. These barriers are keeping Brookline and our schools from becoming more racially and economically diverse,” Wender-Shubow said. “We’re attempting to stabilize and increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the school staff to meet the needs of all of our students with a particular emphasis on the needs of our students of color, and we are really calling on you.”

Brookline parent and paraprofessional Lindsay Linton, who recently spoke at the walkout on Wednesday, March 16, said the reactions from students at the walkout reminded her of her own experiences in high school.

“After the walkout, I had so many students come up to me and feel like they were being taught that they were now going to be a target because of the color of their skin. I remember when I went to school and everybody got along,” Linton said. “The administration did not leave it in the hands of the students, but at the end of the day, it’s been almost over 20 years since I graduated high school and to know that things have gotten worse before they have gotten even better, that breaks my heart.”

Select Board and Racial Imbalance Advisory Council member of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Raul Fernandez said investing in educational lessons and programs regarding race and inequity is critical in helping students.

“We have to speak more openly about hate speech and other forms of oppression in the lower grades. It’s never too early to do this,” Fernandez said. “We can’t just care about our students of color – we need to invest in programs that disproportionately benefit them like ACE, METCO, the African American and Latino Scholars Program, Steps to Success and other critical programs.”

Brookline parent Steven Watson said the BSC should prioritize leading actions that will help all students feel safe and welcomed.

“To be part of change and accountability, I strongly urge the school committee to focus on [their current] practices as well [practices] are likely to lead to real change for our youth,” Watson said. “Our kids deserve school communities free of hate speech and full of relationships of safety and belonging, where they can come into their identities without assaults on their dignity and pride. This is urgent work for us all.”

Many other community members spoke at the meeting, reacting to the recent racist events throughout the district. After the public comment session, BSC members took time to react to the statements made and plan steps of action.

Deputy Superintendent of Teaching & Learning Lesley Ryan Miller said in order for action steps and changes to take place, feedback from a diverse group of individuals needs to happen first.

“The high school administrative team has been very open to reviewing the current recommendation [and response] policies,” Ryan Miller said. “I think that they are open to feedback and open to changes, but I want to be really clear that as we think about the changes that need to be made that it is imperative that we have the feedback of both students, families, and our educators in planning our next move. I think that that sets us up to really put some actions into place in the coming school years.”

Senior Director of Equity Jenee Uttaro said transparency between administrative staff and students needs to be a priority, along with supporting the adults who are working hard to take the advice from students to make changes.

“The work that the adults are doing, the students need to hear about that. We need to listen to our students, not to the degree that we are causing more harm, obviously, because so many of our students of color are speaking up,” Uttaro said. “A number of our white-identifying students are speaking up as well, and we need to be taking our cues from them as well. I certainly support the BHS administration that is working hard to get this right, as are so many other of our other school leaders and staff.”