The NAACP Boulder County chapter, along with other organizations, is calling on the St. Vrain Valley School District to make sweeping changes after a Snapchat photo surfaced of three Mead High School students reenacting the murder of George Floyd.
“After George Floyd was murdered, everyone said, ‘If this doesn't wake us up, what will?’” said Alicia Graves, who wrote the letter and is the NAACP Boulder County’s Education Committee chairperson. “They chose not to do any kind of equity-based training the year after George Floyd was murdered. And then the year ends with students reenacting the murder of George Floyd.”
While she doesn’t think that the lack of training is what caused the student reenactment, she is calling for the district to take proactive steps to address systemic racism, rather than address the individual incident and then move on.
The letter was read by Superintendent Don Haddad during public comment at a school board meeting on Wednesday. Graves was unable to attend.
Over the last year, Graves and Haddad have worked together to make changes in the school district. In the letter, Graves praised Haddad’s condemnation of the incident. The school has made a commitment to equity and inclusion, including increasing diversity of leadership, staff and teachers and partnering with community organizations.
“St. Vrain Valley Schools takes this matter very seriously and the district reaffirms its commitment to diversity and equality in our schools and in our operations,” reads a statement from the district. “Toward this end, we continue to work with our outstanding community partners to prioritize the safety, well-being, inclusion, respect, and success of every single student in St. Vrain Valley Schools.”
A representative from the school district was not available for an interview at the time of publishing this story.
The letter details actions the school district could take to repair the harm done to the Black community and protect it from racism moving forward, according to Graves.
- The students in the photo should be dealt with in the most serious manner possible.
- The code of conduct should be updated to include a clear definition of what constitutes a bias-related incident and what disciplinary actions should be taken in response to a bias-related incident.
- Mead High School’s handling of this incident and broader racial climate should be reviewed.
- The district should provide mandated anti-racism training for all staff each year, and staff performance evaluations should include assessment measures on racial equity.
- The district should support Haddad’s agreement to partner with the NAACP Boulder County to create formal affinity groups to support parents and students of color.
- The district should create a system for tracking bias-related incidents that occur in our schools.
For Graves, the most important actions are to train staff and teachers and to create a tracking system.
“I feel the weight of the parents that reached out to me asking, was it safe to send their kids to school, reaching out, saying, I know of incidents that I want to share, wanting to tell stories and there not being a place to put them,” Graves said. “Being afraid of the pushback if they reported on their teachers, afraid of what it would do to their children.”
The district is still reviewing the letter and considering the recommendations. During the school board meeting, Haddad said that some of the recommendations, like teacher equity training and a parent advisory board, are already underway in the district.
After the photo, Haddad sent a letter to parents and the community.
“There are many important issues facing our society today, however, our highest priority will always be the physical and emotional well-being, respect, and safety of every student, teacher, staff member, and community member in St. Vrain,” Haddad said in the letter. “We remain deeply committed to advancing the success of our students, and I want to reinforce my unwavering commitment to continue taking the necessary actions as the Superintendent of St. Vrain Valley Schools to ensure the human rights, respect, and safety of each and every person.”
The other organizations that signed the letter are Showing Up for Racial Justice, El Comite, ELPASO Movement, YWCA Boulder County, St. Vrain Valley Safe School Coalition, 100 Black Men of Denver Inc., Being Better Neighbors and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Organization.