We had the opportunity to attend the Peaceful Teach-in in Jefferson on June 9, 2020. The event was an educational lecture on the experiences of Jefferson Township’s people of color. During the lecture, two former students and a mother of biracial children stood up and spoke about incidents of racial bias and discrimination that they had experienced while attending Jefferson. These experiences within our school system made me realize that the work in Jefferson Township is not done quite yet. Ensuring that inclusion is paired with diversity will require buy-in from our school system and is not as simple as “opportunities” for professional development. It will require systemic change from within the Board of Education, administration, staff, and students.
It was just three years ago that an incident occurred at a Jefferson High School basketball game where students were shouting out racial slurs and “build a wall” at a high school basketball game in our town. The event gained local and national press being featured in The Roots and the New York Post. Then Superintendent Patrick Tierney apologized for the incident and vowed to complete a full investigation. Tierney went on to say the incident that took place in Jefferson was not completely one-sided but called on parents to model appropriate behavior. Since then, the district has announced initiatives to promote diversity in the school including a diversity club, opportunities for the staff to receive training, and online training and optional professional development.
It is now 2020, and after the event in early June and the days preceding, I have come to the realization there needs to be more buy-in from our school district in order to protect our students from different races, ethnicities, and cultures. Research has shown that racial bias affects the way students learn and influences the way students interact and engage with another. This is evident after hearing the stories of former and current Jefferson Township students who described incidents of racial bias and discrimination that they had experienced in the schools. The district can no longer remain silent and turn its back to racism in fear of parents, the public eye, and pushback. The future is diverse and calls for change to end systemic racism and create an inclusive, safe environment for learning.
As a result of the Black Lives Matter Teach-in and concerns as parents of children in Jefferson, we implore the district to implement a diversity and inclusion policy that includes the following initiatives. We invite Mayor (Eric) Wilsusen, (School Superintendent) Jeanne Howe and the administrative team to a roundtable discussion with our Diversity and Inclusion Committee to listen to the concerns of parents alongside current and former students.
Our committee has also put together a plan for making meaningful change in the school district that we are committed to helping implement by organizing meaningful professional development and training.
- Enact long term policy and culture that listens to the needs and abilities of all of our students within a minimum buy in of five years.
- Bi-annual diversity and inclusion training and support for all staff.
- Higher level diversity and inclusion training for administration.
- The formation of a zero-tolerance policy against student offenses involving physical or verbal attacks based on race, color, religion ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and all other protected groups.
- An affirmative action policy to aid in hiring and recruiting more highly qualified teachers of color in our school district.
Christine Malloy, Lake Hopatcong Resident and Member of the Jefferson Parents Diversity and Inclusion Committee