Janesville School Board hears minorities’ concerns

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Friday, April 23, 2010
— One mother told of a teacher who criticized her daughter, saying that “she acted ‘street,’ talked ‘ghetto’ and was half cracker and half black.”

The mother complained. An administrator told her that the teacher was told that if it had happened, it was not to happen again.

That wasn’t good enough, the woman said.

Other mothers told of hearing from their children that they were called names by classmates or treated differently by teachers because of their skin color or heritage.

The comments were made Thursday at what was a first for the Janesville School District: School board members called a meeting to hear parents’ concerns.

The listening session at Wilson School focused on the problems of parents whose children are members of minorities.

About 40 parents showed up. Many just listened. About 10 spoke.

The board members said they mean business.

“It’s no witch hunt, but I want to hold the administration responsible” for such problems, said board member Greg Ardrey, who is black.

Ardrey and fellow board member Peggy Sheridan, who is white, called the meeting. They listened and took notes for two hours.

A mother said she taught her children to hold their heads up high, but somehow school staff members don’t like her daughter’s attitude.

Her daughter, an avid basketball player, was told she didn’t have the skills to play high school ball, the mother said. But when she talked to a coach, she was told that her daughter “just acts too much like a thug. Are you sure she’s not gang-related?”

The girl was told to try out again next year, but the mother is convinced she’ll never play here because “she’s been marked.” A Hispanic mother said words are sometimes spoken, but she urges her son not to give in to the negativity. Her message to her son is: “If you study now, the world has no boundaries.”

A black mother said her son has been in trouble in school, but officials won’t tell her what happened or whether the other kid in an altercation was disciplined. She feels her son has been “targeted.”

A Hispanic mother said through an interpreter that her son had gotten into trouble at Edison Middle School, but now she communicates daily with a teacher who speaks Spanish and gets an update on how her son is behaving, and they address concerns on the spot.

The mother recommended that parents talk to the teachers as she has done to work through problems.

A white mother of a biracial girl asked about Sisters Empowering Sisters, a support group for black girls.

“Why can’t we do something to include more students instead of separating out the minorities … to get them to see past the differences and see there are more similarities than differences,” the mother said.

A black mother responded that the girls need the program because it’s a place where they don’t have to explain themselves.

“You have to understand that these kids are constantly reminded that they are minorities,” the black mother said.

“Our kids are having a hard time out here,” the mother continued. “They are having a hard time being black, and we need to make teachers understand that our children are students first and minorities second.”

There are programs where the kids mingle, the black mother said, including sports.

A white woman who has biracial children said her young son feels that he is disciplined immediately, while white students get many chances to correct their behavior.

Her son also was searched for reasons he didn’t understand but which he thought were racist, the woman said.

The woman said she doesn’t want her son to use race as a crutch, “but it keeps happening. You can’t help but wonder, ‘well, maybe it is happening.’”

Bob Baldwin, a black man who is a part of the school district’s diversity efforts, said not even half of black males were graduating a few years ago.

Baldwin complimented the efforts to improve blacks’ academic performance in recent years, but “it’s been a struggle.”

“We need to recognize students of different cultures,” Baldwin added. “It’s very important we recognize all students. Everybody needs a decent education.”

Ardrey promised that Thursday’s session won’t be the last. He suggested the board invite the public to comment on other issues as well.

“We need input,” Ardrey said.

Not every problem can be fixed immediately, Ardrey said, “but we want to improve. … This is just the beginning. We won’t stop.”

Ardrey said afterward comments were more positive than he expected.

Both Ardrey and Sheridan said the problems seem to be isolated in pockets.

“I think we need to talk to the administrators of those (school) buildings and make sure they have the pulse of those buildings,” Sheridan said.

Ardrey and Sheridan said their next step is to talk to Superintendent Karen Schulte and to fellow board members about what they heard Thursday and develop plans.

Sheridan told the crowd that “this is not the end,” and “we need to get diversity training for all our staff members,” not just some of them.

Last updated: 1:21 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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