BENNINGTON — After meeting with Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union administrators earlier this month concerning racial role-play assignments at Mount Anthony Union High School, community activist and Rutland-area NAACP president Mia Schultz has been planning for the next step.
In a letter sent out recently, signed by more than 100 local community members, Schultz writes to the SVSU administrators looking for some tangible progress from the meeting.
“We appreciate the intent, but we still need to talk about the past and repair that,” Schultz said. “Who in the community has been harmed, where are the gaps? We can’t assume we know what’s best for everyone. There’s so many voices in this town that haven’t been heard.”
It comes on the heels of an assignment that Schultz’s son received in a Global Issues class at the high school.
The instructor of the course used a pair of worksheets with the titles, “Immigration Role-Play” and “Fighting Terrorism.”
The worksheets are from 2004 and 2006, respectively, and use racist role-play and also racist language and parallels in reference to immigrants and terrorism. Schultz called it a case of “curricular violence.”
After the meeting, SVSU superintendent James Culkeen put a moratorium on role-play lessons in the district and also vowed to have the social studies unit re-examined.
He also said that Jonathan Phipps, the district’s new Equity Coordinator, would work with the Education Justice Coalition of Vermont to create a school-wide professional development for faculty and staff.
Those two demands are still in the works, while the district has started on others. Along with the moratorium on role-play, the district has already started a full curricular audit of the social studies and English Language Arts departments with a group called Seed the Way.
“The [district] has hired contractors for professional development,” Schultz said. “Everyone should be represented.”
Culkeen was unavailable for comment on Thursday afternoon.
They are also asking the district for a public apology, matching the one Schultz received in the meeting from MAUHS principal Stephen Nixon.
“When you make a mistake, you want to acknowledge it and fix it,” Schultz said. “Reconciliation is very important.”
The letter said the group expects the district to make positive, collaborative change as a result of the effort.
“We, as a community and as organizations, are writing to follow-up on the conversation members of the Rutland Area and Windham County branches of the NAACP, and the Education Justice Coalition of Vermont had with SVSU district and school leaders on March 4th, 2021 concerning the racist deportation role play and the immigration and terrorism assignment,” the letter begins. “In the last meeting, you had the opportunity to hear the perspectives and research we presented and seemed willing to learn and collaborate with us. We would now like to take that opportunity and the gained momentum to produce more tangible outcomes.”
Schultz said that Melissa Senecal, the SVSU director of curriculum instruction and assessment, contacted her with a willingness to meet again.
Schultz said the work is part of an ongoing journey “to address the harm that has been done to the kids.”
“They are still lacking in the most basic ways of communicating reconciliation,” Schultz said. “We’re further along then we were five years ago, but more organizing to do with the community. We need to do more work with the superintendent to see [that] the top down mentality when it comes to equity just won’t work.”