Education News

Racial incident at Bristol Elementary sparks community response

BRISTOL — Two weeks after a student of color at Bristol Elementary School was twice called a racial slur, around a dozen community members stood before the Mount Abraham Unified School District Board on Tuesday and called on school officials to take immediate and extensive action in addressing racism throughout the district and ensuring all students feel safe and supported. 

Elissa Cobb, a Bristol resident and member of the school district’s Community Engagement Committee, was among those to address the board during its meeting on Aril 17. 

“I came here to ask you sincerely consider these things, to stay in the conversation about racism, to lift it up and speak about racism without allowing your focus to divert to other equity issues that are also important,” she said. “I also ask you to consider to understand that to be an anti-racist, white-bodied person, action is required. To be anti-racist means to act consistently against racism.” 

Cobb asked the board to consider adopting an anti-racism plan for the district, outlining commitments such as: 

• An anti-racism course incorporated into the district’s curriculum, mandatory for white students as a requirement for graduation and accessible for parents and community members. 

• The hiring of Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) teachers and staff within the next five years, as well as hiring a trauma specialist for the district’s students. 

• A revision of existing school policies, procedures and statements regarding the MAUSD board’s views on racism and racial incidents to include “clear, action steps that support both the perpetrator of racial harm and the BIPOC student who has been harmed, support that reaches the parents and the community at large” within 24 hours of the incident. 

“I admit that this is a lot. This work is hard, and it should be, given how long we have been set apart as white,” Cobb said. “It is time now to collaborate with the reality of racism, right here, right here in Bristol, right here in our schools.”  

A group of community members stood behind Cobb during her comments to the board, some of whom added their own remarks. 

“I, as a white-bodied person, can no longer put those overt racist acts heard on the news in a box titled ‘horrible, wrong, so very sad, but at least not here in my village,’ because racism is here,” Bristol resident Deb Merriman told the board. “We need adults here to take action for our children and for future populations. We cannot afford to wait.” 

Prior to the board’s meeting on Tuesday, multiple community members took to Front Porch Forum to express their sympathy for the BES student who was racially harassed and to encourage parents to talk with their children about acceptable behavior. Other posts called on district leadership to implement anti-racist curriculum or take other actions following the incident.  

MAUSD Board Chair Krista Siringo also took to Front Porch Forum to address the incident with a statement from the school board. 

“The MAUSD School Board strongly condemns the recent racial epithet directed toward one of our Bristol Elementary School students. There is no tolerance or place in our learning community for targeted aggression based on race,” Siringo wrote. 

The statement referenced the district’s strategic plan, enacted in 2019. The plan outlines an equity goal that “all MAUSD students will learn in equitable, culturally responsive, and inclusive environments,” as well as specific objectives and actions to realize that goal. 

“We remain committed to these core values, but the racial incident against a student in our community demonstrates that we have a long way to go,” Siringo wrote. “We know that this is not an isolated incident. In Vermont and across the country there are many examples of people being targeted because of their race, or other identity. As a school district and a community, we must do better.” 

The board’s statement also mentioned plans to host a free screening of the Vermont-based musical film “Listen Up” at Mount Abraham Union High School next month. The film explores the experiences and issues of teenagers throughout the state, such as racial and social justice and the reality of being a Black person in Vermont. 

“It’s our hope that this event will bring us together to listen to our young people, and then further commit ourselves to doing the hard work to ensure our community and our schools are places where all students have the tools to thrive and succeed, and where they feel like they belong,” Siringo wrote. 

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