By Curt Peterson
Windsor Central Unified Union School District and Windsor South East Supervisory Union, which includes Windsor High School, have engaged Writing Wrongs, LLC to help develop anti-racism policies.
Arielle King, 22, a post graduate student at Vermont Law School and co-founder of Writing Wrongs, told the Mountain Times she and fellow co-founder and VLS alumnus Jameson Davis, 34, came from communities where it would have been natural for them to participate in the Black Lives Matter protests.
“But we decided,” King said, “we would create something that would help actualize and effectuate the goals of the protests instead.”
The two Vermont Law School students are now working to carefully and permanently codify the principles of anti-racism in local school districts.
Davis said the group is now working with about 10 school districts.
King and Davis were named fellows this spring by the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF), a Boston-based non-profit organization promoting racial equity in healthcare and human services. In May they decided to develop Writing Wrongs with the ASF goal in mind as part of their fellowship project.
“We’ve spent a lot of hours studying policy creation and its implementation,” King said. “We can apply this knowledge to an issue we think is important to us, and compatible with our Schweitzer fellowships.”
When asked how does systematic racism in schools make Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) feel uncomfortable, unsafe and/or undervalued? King cited several articles describing how curricula and standardized testing favor white students, how discriminatory administration of discipline affect achievement, and how white/BIPOC wealth inequities hinder BIPOC educational success.
“The anti-racism policies we create are catalysts for anti-racism work, and accountability tools to ensure the work gets done – they are not a solution to racism in school districts per se,” King said.
WSESU Superintendent David Baker told the Mountain Times the chair of West Windsor School Board heard about Writing Wrongs through the Hartford School District.
WCUUSD Board policy committee chair Lou Piconi reviewed the program’s Hartford project as well.
Central to that policy is a statement that is posted in all school buildings, printed in the student handbook and provided to parents. It states:
“The School District of the Town of Hartford rejects all forms of racism. Racism in any form will not be tolerated in this school. Hartford Schools are committed to the mission of increasing cultural respect by cultivating greater understanding of concepts of diversity, inclusion, equity, implicit bias, white privilege, white supremacy, and systemic racism,” the statement reads.
When a district engages Writing Wrongs, Davis and King, who operate the program themselves, gather all available information. The districts control the speed and starting scope.
“Swooping in like a helicopter, and telling schools what their problems are and what to do, doesn’t work,” King said.
Significant stakeholders include parents, students, faculty and administrators. Alumni are an important source for first-hand accounts of student experiences.
The duo helps districts identify and analyze challenges, then a policy is conceptualized.
“We produce two documents,” Davis explained. “The first is the policy itself. The second is a guide for implementation of the policy, with measurables.”
School should be a safe place for every student, King said, and if students feel safe in a client school, the program is a success. The policies and implementations are designed for results to be made public every other year.
“Restorative justice is an important factor in some school districts,” Davis said. “Is discipline administered equitably among all students? What infractions can earn one student a slap on the wrist, and another student serious consequences?”
From their first meeting with administrators to delivering the finished product can take anywhere from one to two-and-a-half months. Thanks to virtual meetings, Covid-19 restrictions haven’t adversely affected Writing Wrongs.
“The time a project takes depends on that district’s processes and procedures. And the new policy has to be compatible with existing policies in the district,” Davis said.
“Having a clearly stated anti-racism policy … ensures that [WCUUSD] has a clear voice on this incredibly important issue and that we have a plan to … address the work,” WCUUSD Superintendent Sherry Sousa wrote in an email. “Accessing Writing Wrongs brings individuals of color with diverse experiences to the development of this policy so we are not bringing our biases to the conversation.”
Baker also hopes the program will help WSESU “create safe spaces for people of color in our district.”
The WSESU task force includes teachers, faculty and staff, and Baker said “there is enthusiasm in general.”