Williamstown Diversity Committee Seeks Transparency from School District
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town's diversity committee is discussing with Mount Greylock Regional School District how to share information about incidents in the school and steps to address them.
At Monday's meeting of the Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee, Noah Smalls reported on a meeting he had met with two other DIRE Committee members, Mount Greylock Superintendent Jason McCandless and Jake Schutz, the principal at the middle-high school.
Smalls said he, Randall Fippinger and Carrie Greene encouraged the administrators to clarify with district counsel exactly how much information can be shared with the public about incidents that have taken place.
"Because some of these incidents are ongoing in their investigations and their own processes, it is difficult to understand what the school district can tell us without exposing themselves to some sort of legal ramifications," Smalls said.
"I thought, overall, we made a good case that we wanted to open this platform as a place where [McCandless] could be engaged and share as much information as he had available and make us all secure that there is maximum transparency in these processes."
Greene, a longtime and current member of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee who also serves on the DIRE Committee, agreed with Smalls' assessment of the meeting and talked about the challenges for school officials in providing that transparency.
"There are so many constraints," Greene said. "That's the hard part. The constraints are there for a reason. When you're dealing with, in this case, not just students but teacher's unions and various entities, state and local, it gets even more complicated.
"It's frustrating for everybody. That's one of the things that came out of this. We can acknowledge how frustrating it is on both sides, even before you consider what families want shared and don't want shared. Thinking about incidents earlier in the year, what was shared was not always to the liking of all the people involved. That's one of the things that caused a little more caution to be had recently."
Smalls mentioned that the school system should look into whether it can provide statistical data about the number of incidents reported and how they were addressed. Fippinger pointed out that stats will not always tell the full story.
"I was encouraged by [McCandless and Schutz] acknowledging micro-aggressions, so if there are, theoretically, 10 incidents in one year and the next year there are only eight incidents, we can't say we're doing 20 percent better," he said. "They acknowledge there is a multiple factor of how ever many incidents that are reported. We all acknowledge that we know of young people who said they don't want particular incidents reported because of repercussions to them as a young person."
Andrew Art said the DIRE Committee can welcome discussions with the district that don't necessarily involve specifics about the incidents.
But the specifics of the most recent incident drew the ire of two committee members at Monday's meeting.
"It's hard for me to believe that we're employing teachers who think [using the 'n' word] is OK," Jeffrey Johnson said. "If we're sitting here in 2022, and you're telling me adults don't know the 'n' word is inappropriate to use in school, that's a problem for me. It's a big problem.
"I'm definitely emotional about it. It's definitely personal."
Johnson is among many members of the DIRE Committee who currently have children in the Mount Greylock Regional School District. Another is Shana Dixon.
"I think it would be helpful if [school officials] come talk to DIRE and the public," Dixon said. "How effective is their training? What exactly have they learned? Because by now they should have grasped something.
"I'm with Jeff. I'm furious, especially having a Black child of color involved."
The committee discussed inviting McCandless to make regular appearances at its meetings to discuss incidents in the schools.
The DIRE Committee also Monday discussed asking the Select Board to expand the panel's membership.
Smalls started the conversation by suggesting that the DIRE Committee needs more representation from marginalized communities.
Art, Greene and Fippinger each volunteered to step aside from the committee if their spot could be filled by another resident interested in serving, but they were assured by their colleagues that the discussion was not about replacing any current members.
Johnson talked about the difficulty he had in finding community members willing to serve on the 2-year-old committee and called on his colleagues to do some recruiting.
"I absolutely think we need more [members]," Johnson said. "Maybe this is our challenge to beat the streets and get more people to come.
"We need citizens. Please step up. Please apply. Because we want you."
The conversation led to the committee revisiting an idea that has been floated in the past: creating a seat on the committee for a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians in recognition of the fact that the town sits on the indigenous people's ancestral homeland.
The committee got as far as a motion to request that the Select Board, which created the advisory panel in the summer of 2020, re-expand its membership to nine with one seat designated for the Stockbridge-Munsee nation.
Andi Bryant objected to the latter idea.
"I'm OK with adding two more seats," Bryant said. "I will emphatically vote no against an ex officio position for the Stockbridge-Munsee. I'm 54 years old, my family has been in this town for four generations. I have been – up until a year ago – invisible because of my financial status. I'm also Blackfoot. That makes me mixed-race. It makes a majority minority group, and it's painful to constantly hear it called no longer majority minority.
"Having a seat for the Stockbridge-Munsee, for whom this was their ancestral land … I am here. I am Blackfoot. You have an Indian on this group. This is almost a deal-breaker for me. Incredibly painful."
Several members of the committee apologized to Bryant for causing her any pain, and the motion was never seconded. The panel agreed to discuss the expansion further without entirely dismissing the idea of a role for a Stockbridge-Munsee representative.
"The desire to have them in this seat is not because they're from a broadly indigenous background but because of the direct relationship in lineage that we express as accepted historical knowledge," Smalls said, referring to a land acknowledgement that usually opens DIRE Committee meetings.
"I don't want to minimize your presence in any way. I didn't know you were of mixed ethnicity. I don't think any of us … were aware of any of our ethnicities. I think we make assumptions. I hope it's something that, with the acknowledgement of the variety of ethnicities, including yours, that you could support, in connection with our land acknowledgement.
"I could understand if it's something that can't be discussed in this moment and if we need to continue the conversation in another moment."
Editor's note: this article inadvertently went live for a time on April 7 but had been scheduled to run April 8.