HUDSON—The City School District (HCSD) has joined other institutions and organizations in embracing people of a variety of preferences and descriptions. But students and others told about in-school bullying, prejudicial assumptions and discriminatory treatment based on race and ethnicity, at the Board of Education meeting April 26.
At the meeting, the board formally adopted the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity (DEI) Policy it has been working on for some time. Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson, Common Council President Tom DePietro, First Ward Supervisor Claire Cousin, students and other community members attended. Some came to congratulate the board on the DEI policy. But some speakers placed more emphasis on the impending loss of minority teachers’ aides who lead certain after school activities.
The HCSD has funded these activities—which include games and puzzles and some visits to the Firemen’s Home—with the 21st Century Grant. For 2022-23, it applied for the grant, but did not get it, Superintendent Lisamarie Spindler reported regretfully. Therefore, the activities face termination.
Ms. Cousin expressed hope of “finding a way to keep as much of the program’s staff here as possible. The program has become part of the district.” Stephanie Monseu, Artistic Director of the Bindlstiff Family Circus, pointed out that if these activities disappear, many “people of color in leadership positions will no longer be here.” Other speakers said that students of color identify with these leaders.
The DEI policy declares commitment to a “positive and inclusive …environment, where all students—especially those currently and historically marginalized—feel safe, included, welcomed and accepted, and experience a sense of belonging…. Racism, discrimination, and marginalization of any people…have no place in our schools….”
‘I want to commend the brave students for speaking out.’
Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson
But at the meeting, a fifth grader reported that “a lot of time in school, Caucasians have said the N-word. They should get lessons in what it really means.” Some of his tormentors got a two-day suspension, but he seemed to doubt that would change the situation. They don’t know the word’s emotional impact, said an older student.
Neveah Gregory said she had suffered taunting, bullying, and racial slurs in school. Gabrielle Xavier, a High School sophomore, said bullying happens “in plain sight.”
As for discrimination, Ms. Gregory recalled a class a few years ago where “we noticed the teacher assigned Caucasian students to sit” closer to him and minorities to sit in “the back.”
“I don’t feel comfortable being a minority in this school,” added Kenold Dorce, another sophomore. “I have to work 10 times as hard. But we can do better than we think.”
Ms. Xavier reported that “a lot of us never got” the Culture and Climate Survey, and called its results inaccurate.
The DEI policy calls for “ensuring every student has access to the resources… they need” when they need it. But “when we ask” some “teachers for help, we never get” it, said Ms. Gregory. The teachers are “too rushed.” Another student reported one teacher giving her a zero for writing an essay the way another teacher said to. Sophomore Tymyria Miller said that the teachers “don’t understand us.” One “sent me out of room for talking in my normal voice.”
Ms. Miller also reported a white teacher’s aide telling her, “If I were your father, you wouldn’t be the way you are.” She said that “hurt” her, especially since she is trying to work out her relation with her own father.
Nevertheless, Ms. Miller added, “If we had more cultural teachers and Black teacher aides, I’d love this school.”
“I experienced racial prejudice when I was here,” recalled Gloria Martinez, who graduated from Hudson High School in 1998. “And now there are still problems.”
A Latina reported that in school both of her daughters have been called “illegal,” even though they were born in US. One teacher told them they “would not amount to anything,” because of their illegality. The mother called for training teachers in “cultural sensitiveness.”
One person who was helpful, said Ms. Xavier, was Alyssa Sabbatino, who was associate principal of Hudson Junior High from fall 2017 until fall 2019. Ms. Sabbatino, a proponent for “restorative justice,” got “us” into groups to talk, Ms. Xavier recalled.
“We’re forced to be here [in school] by law,” Ms. Xavier said. “But some things we say aren’t being addressed. School should be a second home. It should be a place where we get our first experience. And our first experience shouldn’t teach us that we’re treated differently. We’re being bullied because we’re young. We’re young, but we aren’t naive.”
“I want to commend the brave students for speaking out,” said Mayor Johnson.
Ms. Cousin and school board member Lucinda Segar thanked the student speakers for “sharing your experiences.”
“Keep coming to meetings,” added board Vice President Mark DePace.
Meeting attendees were offered computers set up to translate between English and Spanish, both orally with headphones and written on the screen. For translating Spanish into English, board member Sage Carter said that microphones at different distances from the speaker, heard differently and thus translated differently. For translating English into Spanish, Ivy Hest, communication director for the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, said the results were mixed, but “people appreciated that you had this at all.” This was the first time this translation tool was used, and technical issues can be worked out, she added.
Regarding the DEI act, Ms. Cousin said she was glad to see the community “evolving” to meet the diverse needs.
“Now we have to put the policy to action,” Ms. Segar said. “The work is just beginning.”