SOUTHINGTON — A statewide education group is urging a coalition of parents, teachers and town leaders to “challenge the norm” to make students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds feel welcome in school.
The Coalition for Social Justice, created by the Board of Education last month, held its first public meeting Tuesday after its first meeting was closed to anyone not appointed to the group, including the press.
School Superintendent Tim Connellan formed the group to address complaints that minority students are mistreated in the schools.
Ingrid Canady, executive director of the State Education Resource Center, led Tuesday’s discussion after Southington officials asked for help from SERC, which has done similar programs in West Hartford and other towns.
Canady led the group as they discussed race, terms such as racial consciousness and social justice, and ways to make schools more inclusive.
“We are here to challenge the norm, to shift the norm,” she said.
A video that surfaced late last year prompted residents and the NAACP to urge the Board of Education to address a lack of minority teachers and administrators, as well as higher discipline rates for minority students. In the video, a Southington High School student threatened black classmates.
Canady played clips from the January school board meeting where two students, one of whom is a coalition member, said they felt unsafe and unwelcome by the white student majority. Canady then directed coalition members to gather in their subcommittees and begin thinking about ideas to “shift the norm, shift the relationship of power and privilege.”
The 30 members of the group are divided into seven subcommittees focused on hiring, curriculum, professional development and student voice.
The group was originally closed to the public with school officials citing the “sensitive nature” of the discussion. The Record-Journal filed a Freedom of Information complaint earlier this month, arguing a group formed by a public official — in this case the superintendent of schools — should be subject to disclosure laws.
The district reversed its stance and opened the meeting after the complaint was filed but before the FOI Commission agreed to move forward with a hearing. An agenda for the meeting was also posted online prior to the session.
The group includes school board member Bob Brown, Town Councilor Tom Lombardi, Connellan, Assistant School Superintendent Steven Madancy and Southington High School Principal Brian Stranieri.
Tuesday’s discussion included the popular definition of diversity, which to most people means any non-white races or cultures, according to Canady.
“White is also a race,” she said.
Connellan said the district holds celebrations of white and non-white cultures and to avoid white students thinking that diversity events are only for minority students.
The coalition met at DePaolo Middle School. It’s scheduled to meet again on May 14.