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Schools vow racial sensitivity progress

Mike Genet
mike.genet@examiner.net

The group of recent graduates who promoted the “#BlackatBSSD” movement on social media say the Blue Springs School District’s statement released this week is a good start and that it must be just a start, with action to follow.

In response to the numerous stories of racism and other forms of discrimination shared by former students, the district wrote in its statement that it takes responsibility and has a plan for change.

Similarly this week, the Grain Valley School District says it will try to keep watch and respond better after learning of prior instances in which the Confederate flag had been shown on school grounds.

The hashtag “BlackatBSSD” started in the wake of protests inspired by George Floyd’s May 25 death at the hands of Minneapolis police. It didn’t take long for hundreds of posts to appear on that topic and a related hashtag “UnheardatBSSD.”

Nafi Seifi, a 2018 graduate of Blue Springs High School, said three friends who graduated from Blue Springs South in 2019 came up with the hashtag idea a week ago after they saw a high school administrator’s tweet they believed didn’t accurately represent the school or their high school experiences.

“They started it, and I eventually followed them with it,” Seifi said. “They had seen the hashtag at other schools.”

Seifi said she and Munira Nuru, Michaela Ross and Brea Williams then all met with district staff early Monday, so they knew the statement would be released.

The hashtag “UnheardatBSSD” showed other forms of discrimination are also prevelent in the district, Seife said, and “All of these stories stick with alumni for the rest of their lives.”

“This was definitely to create change,” she said. “All of us were in leadership positions in high school, so it wasn’t unusual to sit and talk with them. This time they followed with something. If they had done less, we wouldn’t be happy.”

Beginning its statement addressed to black students, families and staff, the district wrote:

“We recognize and take responsibility for the harm that has occurred in our schools. We know that our apology is not enough. That is why we are taking action. We are reviewing and changing policies, addressing teachers with violations, creating an anti-racism campaign, and so much more.”

The district established the Diversity Committee during the past school year – a group of staff members focused on staff mentoring, professional development, social/emotional support, recruitment and hiring and growing staff diversity.

Also in the statement, the district says it:

• Is forming a “review and action committee” to address racial issues that occur in the schools.

• Has established a board policy and review committee to recommend changes and additions to support diversity.

• Will have the Curriculum Equity Committee examine ways to improve.

“While it should not have taken this long for change to happen, we want our black students and staff to know that your stories are heard,” the statement read in conclusion. “We will stand with you now, and we will continue to critically evaluate the best ways to create change.”

Seife said the women believe it was a good first step and they know the whole course of action will involve “baby steps.” Their goal isn’t to eliminate ignorance, she said, but rather to create a more “empowering environment for black students and staff.”

“Two of us have little sisters in the district,” Seife said, adding that they know how pervasive racist language can be even among younger students. “We told them, ‘You guys are our eyes and ears.’ We want to make sure it’s a better experience for them.”

“My vision for BSSD is creating a culture where when, not if, a student finds themselves discriminated against, they have confidence that justice will be served,” Seifi said, “because they have been taught that BSSD has no tolerance for that behavior.”

District spokesperson Katie Woolf said the Diversity Committee met Monday afternoon to discuss the action plan and craft the statement before approval later in the day. The Board of Education, including two newly elected members, unanimously approved the statement Monday evening, along with Superintendent Paul Kinder as well as Bob Jerome, set to become superintendent in 2021.

“We are committed to being part of the solution,” Woolf said.

Grain Valley takes steps

The Grain Valley School District sent a statement Monday to district families and all middle school and high school students noting that students are “tuned in to the uncertainty, fear and anger that is happening around them,” and the district owes it to students to speak out against racism and teach the skills to “recognize and correct biases and stereotypes.”

“The alternative is to remain stuck in fear, which is the foundation of hate,” the district wrote. “We do not claim to have all the answers and we are not interested in making political statements. Our commitment is to each of our students to ensure our schools are welcoming and safe.”

Deputy Superintendent Brad Welle said the district subsequently learned of prior instances when the Confederate flag reportedly had been shown or displayed on school grounds.

“We are taking steps to ensure rules around speech that is disruptive or hateful are being consistently enforced,” Welle said.

The Lee’s Summit School District also responded recently to a flurry of discrimination tales on social media under the hashtag #OurStruggleLSR7.”

“Their stories reinforce that we have significant work to do in order to ensure every student feels welcome, valued and included in our school buildings,” the district said in its statement, adding that it remains committed to the equity plan approved last year, as it “provides a framework to enact long-term, sustainable change in the district.”