More education on racism needed, say students at Commack school board

The public portion of a Commack school board meeting on Thursday evening began with a series of students calling for more attention to be paid to systemic racism, ethnic studies and minority life in the United States.

The meeting followed an unruly forum Tuesday on the district’s multiracial curriculum, where parents accused school leaders of teaching critical race theory, sometimes shouting at students who said they had been victims of racism. in their schools.

The school year brought a national breed toll on Long Island, beginning after thousands of students and alumni in districts, including Commack, signed petitions and public letters demanding that leaders of The establishment did more anti-racism work last summer after events that included the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.

Backlash has grown in recent months from some parents who have said labor divides and enforces a politically progressive agenda in schools.

A common refrain is that districts teach Critical Race Theory, a body of academic thought examining the intersection of race and law.

At the meeting Thursday night at Commack High School, Marina Khan, a former student, told the board that the refrain from some parents that children don’t recognize skin color is wrong.

A Muslim student whose family moved from Pakistan to the United States, Khan said she was frequently the victim of Islamophobia and racism throughout her 12 years in district schools.

“Color blindness ignores the experiences of race,” she said.

On Tuesday, Commack Superintendent Donald James kicked off the community forum with a warning: “There is no critical race theory in buildings; we are not talking about critical race theory.

This commitment, and educators’ explanations of the program, which they believed aimed to teach critical thinking and respect for other cultures, did not satisfy some parents.

On the forum video watched by Newsday, a man asked each board member to repudiate critical race theory. One woman called on the board to stop “forcing diversity on innocent babies… They don’t see color unless you teach them they’re different colors.” The woman, who did not give her full name, wore a shirt with the Long Island Loud Majority logo, a group that backed a slate of school board candidates that toppled incumbents in nearby Smithtown.

The District of Commack established a review committee last summer to ensure that programs and books are “age appropriate, fair and balanced, and that no student feels” less than ” the others, “according to a slide in James’ presentation.

Certain documents, including the children’s book “Be Who You Are! Are meant to teach young students about each other’s differences and similarities, the educators said.

The educators’ presentations only addressed race and racism at a glance: a college social studies unit focuses on the American civil rights movement, and educators mentioned “I am Malala,” a memoir of an Afghan childhood and the novel “Of Mice and Men,” which has themes of race and racism.

Some students said Tuesday the district needs to pay more attention to race and include more authors of color on playlists. They were interrupted several times during the forum by shouting from the audience. A student later said in an email to Newsday that he belonged to the local chapter of a national organization, Diversify Our Narrative, described on its website as a student-led group lobbying for reform of the ‘education. She asked not to be named.

Several of the student lecturers mentioned the graphic novel “Persepolis”, a memoir of a girl’s experience of the Iranian revolution, which James said had been removed from the mandatory reading list because some content was not deemed appropriate for high school students.

The book “will always be available on our reading lists and available for electives,” said district spokesperson Brenda Lentsch.

The district of 5,875 students straddles the towns of Huntington and Smithtown and was 79% White, 10% Asian or Pacific Islander, 10% Hispanic and 2% Black in the 2019-20 school year, according to the Department of New York State education.

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