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Saline Area Schools Wraps Up Listening Sessions On Racism

After launching a series of listening sessions in mid-February to address racism at Saline Area Schools, the district held its last community conversation Wednesday night.  Racism has been a hot topic at the district lately.  89.1 WEMU’s Jorge Avellan attended Wednesday's meeting and has the story.

"You have to be able to admit that it actually exists."

Parents say that before Saline Area Schools can move forward with addressing race issues, the district first has to admit that racism is a problem at their schools.  About 100 people attended a community conversation at Harvest Elementary that centered around diversity, equity and inclusion.  The meeting was the fifth listening session the district held after some of their students made racist comments on social media against African Americans in January.

Scot Graden is the district’s superintendent.

Superintendent Scot Graden: There’s no doubt that I think that we were moving forward in terms of conversations of race but ultimately, the sense of urgency that we feel around this issue has grown exponentially. And I think, I credit the families of color in particular in our community, that have come forward and shared their stories and really have put us in a position of understanding. And learning, and allowed us to really grow as a community.

Those who attended the meeting were split up into groups of 20, so they could have more of an intimate discussion on how the district should go about addressing racism.  The groups then gathered again as a whole to share their ideas.  Parent Chris Bohle said he contacted the district in mid-February when his son mentioned they didn’t discuss Black History Month in his first grade class.

Chris Bohle: If you’re not talking about it at all and it’s Black History Month are you going to be talking about it this October or April? So, sometimes racism is just silence.

Parent Shannon Washington shared her ideas on how to address racism at the district.

Shannon Washington: Really looking at curriculum, looking at training their teachers. And not just the classroom teachers but training all adults. And training is not a solution but it really is about raising awareness in the adults for looking out for what the kids have to deal with. You can’t train away racism or bias or hatred but you can raise awareness so that adults use their skill sets to intervene and interrupt.

Parent Tiffanie Alexander also attended the listening session because she says the district needs to hear from as many people in the community as possible on the issue of race.  She believes it’s something that will need further attention throughout the year, and not just during community meetings.

Tiffanie Alexander: They need a diversity coach, they need mandatory diversity training, they need representative books, affirming speech and celebrations. They need to employ more diverse staff members. The diversity training needs to be mandatory for everybody. From teachers to bus drivers.

Superintendent Scot Graden explains what Saline Area Schools will do with the feedback that’s been gathered during the last five listening sessions.

Superintendent Scot Graden: The plan for us really is to bring it all together and start to develop and understand what are the themes that emerged. Of those themes, how do we develop a process for prioritizing the themes that emerged as far as what’s next for Saline? There’s a lot of work to be done and hopefully it aligns in a way that’s manageable.
Jorge: Who is going to work on that process?
Superintendent Scot Graden: Well, the process of developing the themes is where we use our DEI committee, we have a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee that’s been around a little bit over a year. It represents a broad cross section of our community involving parents, students and staff. They will be involved in that process. Administration will be involved.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend one of the five listening sessions that were hosted by Saline Area Schools, you can always contact the district directly to provide your feedback.  The district hopes to announce its next steps on addressing racism, sometime in April.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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