Westport Public School System, racial slurs

Parents In Connecticut Demand Action Against Racist Incidents In School, Call For Policy Overhaul

The school board heard the parents' complaints in the community and promised changes would come.

During a school board meeting on Feb. 15, parents of students in the Westport Public School System in Westport, Connecticut, cited multiple incidents of racism they say their children have endured for years. As reported by ABC 7, parents like Dr. Carole Felder and her husband, Richard Anderson, are speaking directly to the district’s board of education. Felder told the board at the meeting, “My seventh grader had a prop gun pointed to the back of her head and said, ‘This is what happens to people your color.’”

At one point, Felder added, “If you asked me today what the most difficult thing I’ve had to do, it’s raising Black children in Westport, Connecticut.”

Felder also shared that a text exchange between her daughter and someone she had at one point considered a friend and that student’s boyfriend that was filled with racial slurs and stereotypes. Anderson joined in, saying, “There are therapists involved and some other things, to the point where they have issues getting up and going to school, wondering what’s going to happen.” Felder said that the problem extended to the community at large, saying, “This is not just a Board of Education problem. It’s a Westport problem.” Felder also called on other parents to get involved and speak up about racism. 

The school district says it has a zero-tolerance policy, and the superintendent issued a statement summarizing their process for reviewing incidents like the ones that Anderson and Felder discussed at the meeting. “Following an investigation, we take swift, decisive action, and those responsible are held accountable.” However, the pair is not convinced that the statement is true, given their experiences. At the meeting, at least one board member, Robert Harrington, apologized. Harrington addressed the incidents that Anderson and his wife brought up, saying, “I apologize for the experience the Anderson family has gone through,” Harrington said. “We know you are not alone. We must and can do better. There will be uncomfortable conversations. We need to take it on.”

As the Westport Journal reported, the Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice talked with the pair. At the same time, there was a break in the meeting, and following the meeting’s conclusion, he issued the following statement: “Let me be clear: We do not tolerate racism and other forms of hate in our schools.”

Scarice continued, “When we learn that a student has been targeted based on their identity, we first take steps to ensure that the student is safe and supported. Following an investigation, we take swift, decisive action and those responsible are held accountable.” And added, “I do, however, know this: no student, no person, should ever have to face discrimination or harassment based on their race. We will listen, we will learn, and while there is no cure for the virus of hate, we will continue to ensure that our schools do all we can to fight against it.”

Felder and Anderson want the district to create an anti-bullying and harassment policy to deter students from engaging in those behaviors. Instead of in-school suspensions, the pair would like to see punishment that includes expulsion as a potential consequence.

Felder said before Harrington issued the apology that the district’s current policy is little more than window dressing. “Your policy may look good on paper, but it does not work.”

The board heard the parents’ complaints in the community and promised changes would come. Still, for the children who have already been affected by the racist behavior of other students, that change might already be too late.

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