500 signatures reached
To: Assistant Superintendent Sumit Bangia, Superintendent Beth Azar, Members of the Board of Education
We demand that MLBT schools take basic steps towards racial literacy.
We are a coalition of alumni and current students who believe that the MLBT school system is failing its students. While Mountain Lakes and Boonton Township pride themselves on being inclusive and welcoming communities, our education does not meet the state's standards on cultural competency.
We enlisted the guidance of Dr. Rosetta Treece, an anti-racist educator who has successfully implemented cultural competency programs within the New Jersey school district where she works. In collaboration with Dr. Treece, we cultivated a short and actionable list of demands to help our district take immediate steps toward improving our overall cultural responsiveness, racial literacy, and commitment to equity:
I. As an entry point, Dr. Treece says our school system must undergo a cultural and curricular audit wherein trained professionals strategically identify gaps and biases throughout our school system. Our community should commit to undergoing this audit in September of 2020.
We anticipate that this audit will highlight the gaps that we as alumni have witnessed in the minimal teaching of Black history and the limited consumption of materials composed by BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) authors.
This audit will also highlight the social segregation that we have experienced between Mountain Lakes High School and Lake Drive students. Our community must immediately recognize this issue and work to integrate these two communities for the benefit of both.
II. We ask that all faculty, staff, coaches, counselors, and administration participate in cultural competence workshops led by an expert prior to the start of the 2020-2021 school year (selected resources included below).
Our educators must be equipped with the tools necessary to initiate and facilitate difficult conversations with their students and to support every single student through their education.
Additionally, these trainings are essential because teachers must be made aware of their own biases and how these affect their teaching outcomes. For example, the US Department of Education reported in a 2014 study that when it comes to disciplinary measures, when Black students and white students commit similar infractions, Black students are suspended and expelled three times more often than white students.
III. As alumni and current students, we collectively can count on the fingers of one hand the non-white educators we have had in our classrooms. Mountain Lakes and Boonton Township cannot claim to be welcoming communities when their staff rosters clearly do not reflect their stated intentions to recruit educators from all backgrounds. We ask that hiring teams intentionally recruit and retain teachers from a diverse array of racial and ethnic backgrounds. (Given that the faculty rosters for the 2020-2021 academic year have already been solidified, we expect this measure to be implemented beginning the following year.)
IV. We ask that ALL of our affiliated schools hold regularly scheduled guest-led assemblies and workshops led by guest speakers and educators who specialize in anti-racist education for students of all ages.
V. Currently, there are no means by which students can anonymously report discriminatory incidents nor is there any disciplinary body which seeks to hold perpetrators accountable. We ask that the online Anonymous Alerts system be reworked such that students be able to report racist, sexist, ableist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, transphobic, etc. incidents.
In cases where disciplinary action is required, the panel that oversees infractions of the Honor Code must uphold a standard of student behavior when it comes not only to cheating and dress code but to discriminatory incidents as well so as to ensure a safe environment for all students.
VI. We request that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Juneteenth represent two days on which the student bodies participate in required assemblies, workshops, or a combination of the two. The cultural auditor(s) can further advise administration on how to schedule and space out the remainder of these programs.
VII. We ask that Columbus Day be replaced by Indigenous People’s Day (as has been done by at least 13 states and over 80 cities nationwide). For an example of the type of Board Resolution the school district could issue, please see Seattle School District #1’s Resolution No. 2014/15-10 (linked in document linked below).
VIII. Lastly, we request that a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Board made up of MLHS alumni and current students be established so as to facilitate greater student body and alumni participation in the important, substantial undertaking that this petition seeks to jumpstart. This Board will serve to hold the school district administration accountable in taking action and will provide fresh insight and resources.
Why is this important?
This is Our Issue
New Jersey state law mandates that public school teachers teach cultural competency and racial literacy to ensure that students become socially attuned and socially responsible citizens of the world. While Mountain Lakes and Boonton Township pride themselves on being inclusive and welcoming communities, we wish to highlight below the ways in which our school system is failing to meet these state requirements and, ultimately, failing its students:
- De facto segregation between MLHS students and Lake Drive students
- Almost entirely white faculty and staff throughout the entire school system
- Lack of cultural competency and anti-bias training for said faculty and staff
- Lack of cultural competency curricula and exercises for students
- No infrastructure for students to report racist incidents nor for offending students to face disciplinary measures
As a predominantly white and upper middle class community, we hold a responsibility to learn about and challenge the existing structures, institutions, and belief systems which privilege whiteness over other racial categories. This is work that, by definition, must be integrated into the education system, as it relies on direct engagement with resources and active discourse with one’s peers. Our community’s commitment to advancing racial justice must be reflected in how we educate our young people.
On the level of the individual student, without formalized practice in critically reflecting on and discussing race and systemic inequality, a student graduates MLHS lacking the language and tools that they need to speak on racial injustice, systemic inequality, or white privilege in their college courses; to identify racial discrimination in their workplaces and know how to effectively combat it; and, broadly, to be prepared to use their voices to speak out in the face of injustices.
These efforts represent the bare minimum and a starting point for our community to meet the requirements of the state and also adequately prepare our students for the outside world. Though uncomfortable, a failure to confront topics such as racial inequality, white privilege, and allyship with our students is just that: a failure and, further, a disservice to our students and our community.
Marisa Trapani MLHS '16, Romy Felsen-Parsons MLHS '16, Janaki Mehta MLHS '21, Jennifer Lessick MLHS '14
Please refer to this document for a compiled list of resources for both educators and students: https://docs.google.com/document/d/189zsZwkjuPNKi0yhMPv9IRo_tPTdtKro2U7JP83nL4w/edit?usp=sharing
Alumni and current students, please take 5 minutes to fill out this survey about your own experiences within our school system: https://forms.gle/AhNotD9qfoeGEDNj6
Survey created by Erin Bender, Sammy Chuan, Grace Chuan, Kahini Mutsuddi, Alexa Czartorysky