Some members of the community and a member of the Board of Education believe the New Paltz Central School District has a problem with racial equity that, in spite of the district’s stated efforts, is not being taken seriously enough.
“The Board, in and of itself, needs to come to terms with where you are in terms of equity and where you are in terms of your fragility, because it still exists,” said trustee Diana Armstead. “And it’s just a lot of intellectual dishonesty going on. And until you address your own issues on race, racism and equity, you’re going to stay right when you are and next…is going to be a Board with no diversity whatsoever.”
Armstead, who declined to seek reelection to the Board of Education this year, was speaking during a meeting of the board held on Wednesday, June 1. Two weeks earlier, Armstead read from a five-page letter she sent to the board, detailing her experiences as a woman of color in a district she said is not committed to racial equity.
“I personally have observed and experienced the subtle and not so subtle signs of racial micro-aggressions that has existed during my three decades engaged with the New Paltz Central School District,” Armstead wrote. “The spirit and the intent of our Anti-Racist Policies have been violated by current and past board members. Specifically, between 2018-2022 I have witnessed racism upfront and personally from white BOE colleagues and the former Superintendent, Maria Rice. For example, actions of racist behaviors directed at me include but are not limited to exclusion, intentional lack of communications, authoritative communication, authoritarian style behaviors, dismissiveness and avoidance just to name a few. Racism is a vicious cycle of low expectations of people of color that through self-fulfillment processes manifest themselves among the most well-intentioned liberals. Institutional racism in our district has led to a revolving door of employees of color.”
At last week’s meeting, Edgar Rodriguez also addressed the “revolving door” for employees of color in the NPCSD.
“I have witnessed the catapulting in and out of employees of color with staff titles of custodial, grounds, bus, teacher, teacher assistants, teacher administrators and even board members at a rate that can only be explained by institutional racism,” Rodriguez said. “Which the school board is ultimately the responsible party to correct, because you have the resources and power for change, but you remain ineffectual in making corrections, you silently, and with great skills, push our employees of color through the revolving door.”
Limina Grace Harmon called into question the ability of the district’s Racial Equity Initiative Advisory Committee — which counts among its members both Armstead and Board President Bianca Tanis — to enact real change in New Paltz.
“When we do what is right for those on the margins, everyone wins,” Harmon said. “It never fails. So while racial equity work may not seem to be your thing, I humbly suggest that you rethink that position.”
Harmon went on to say that “equity is a matter of life and death.”
“The news certainly indicates this, yet the conversations around achieving equity are not held with urgency,” she said, “They feel like Groundhog Day, or more alarmingly, they feel like 911 calls made from a classroom while the authorities stand in the hall and fumble for the keys. At some point, you either go through the scary door and deal with the problem or you reveal that you are really more or less okay with the problem.”
Critics of the district’s efforts in assuring racial equity among both its staff and students point to a November 2016 draft entitled “Action Plan for Addressing Racial Equity and Creating a Culturally Proficient District as being well-intentioned but ineffective. The timeframe for the plan to be put into action, thus changing the culture of a diverse district, was 11/16/16-6/30/21. According to some, problems still persist.
Some trustees last week said that policy rollouts are the responsibility of district administration and not the Board of Education, but they also added that they could help make that happen more than they have in the past.
“I want to acknowledge that we have to do a better job of holding the district and everyone who has a hand in that accountable to doing that,” said Tanis. “And I can pledge to do a better job with that.”
In her mid-May letter, Armstead questioned whether the current Board of Education was motivated to enact real change.
“I’m convinced that the BOE is not committed to anti-racism practices,” she wrote. “The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond provided training and demonstrated how to effectively address race and racism. The BOE is neither committed nor interested in addressing race and racism effectively. Their actions, their rhetoric and their behavior have demonstrated their unwillingness to have a safe and equitable environment for people of color; that includes teachers, children and families.”
The next meeting of the Board of Education is scheduled for Wednesday, June 15.