DOVER — As city officials continue to deal with the fallout of their decision to retain a high school teacher who allowed students to sing a racially insensitive song about the Ku Klux Klan, the NAACP and educational leaders are talking about the bigger topic of eradicating racism in education.
During a small rally last week inside Dover City Hall, members of the New England Area Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People pushed for the firing of social studies teacher John Carver, who was placed on paid administrative leave following the Nov. 30 incident inside his classroom. But they also talked about ways to address overt and implied racism in school systems.
Seacoast NAACP President Rogers Johnson called for a fundamental change in the educational process and more funding for diversity and inclusiveness training for administrators and staff in every New Hampshire school district. He is hopeful Gov. Chris Sununu will include money for these efforts in his soon to be presented budget.
Last week, Johnson said requiring diversity training for educators makes common sense.
“I’m not speaking about things that are esoteric, or ‘pie in the sky,’” Johnson said.
Johnson maintains that people of many different backgrounds are moving to New Hampshire for work and a higher quality of life. It is beneficial for Granite State children to grow up in an environment that promotes acceptance of all cultures for their own social and economic advantage, he says.
In Dover, officials are already voluntarily taking advantage of free and low-cost training programs provided by the U.S. Department of Education to ensure educators fully understand white privilege, racism and bias. Carver is undergoing one-on-one mentoring, according to School Superintendent William Harbron.
Other large school districts in the state are also providing diversity training in some form.
On Friday, Dr. Bolgen Vargas, Manchester’s superintendent of schools, said they offer diversity training to all district staff members on an annual basis and they provide resources for administrators to use on the building level.
“Most importantly, we believe it is critical to prepare our students for living in a diverse world. One way we do this is by ensuring our students are exposed to diverse literature including titles such as, ‘The Long Walk to Water’ and the ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave,’” Vargas said.
Nashua Superintendent of Schools Jahmal Mosley said they established a training program that includes topics on racial diversity last summer. They are also evaluating their curriculum to make sure it is reflective of the community’s cultural differences.
“This community is diverse, and we have close to 64 languages spoken in our schools with a growing number of multicultural families moving into the district. It’s most important,” Mosley said.
Mosley declined to comment on whether or not he thinks there should be required statewide diversity training, saying he can only speak for the Nashua community.
Rev. Eric Jackson, who is president of the NAACP in Manchester, and Gloria Timmons, president of the Greater Nashua NAACP, say there is still much work to be done in their communities.
Jackson referenced a hair-covering policy in Manchester which does not allow students to wear durags indoors because school officials claim they are associated with gangs. That is not the case, as durags are most often used to keep hair pulled back neatly so students can focus on their studies, Jackson said.
Purnell “Fred” Ross, of Dover, who has been a leader in the NAACP for many years, said Tuesday it is time to face and fight the bigotry within school systems.
“You cannot just sit back and say nothing when the house is burning down,” Ross said. He does not believe Carver should be reinstated at Dover High School because he knowingly allowed students to sing the KKK “Jingle Bells” song, which included lyrics about killing black people.
Johnson said last week they intend to take things one step further and become politically involved in this fall’s municipal elections in Dover. Letters from the NAACP have already been received by local politicians.
“I will help the kids. I will help the community leaders who want to talk about this,” Johnson said. “But if you are a city councilor or mayor, how can you sit there and say you support the superintendent on his decision?”
It is not clear if funding for more diversity training for educators throughout the state will become available anytime soon.
Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut said Friday all questions regarding the governor’s budget should be directed to Sununu’s office.