The School Committee voted 5 to 4 — members Fred Small, Dan Cullity, Mike Jones and Chairman Bob Hayes — with member Christopher Howard abstaining, to support a Massachusetts Association of School Committee resolution on inclusion and diversity in school curriculum.
Those opposed expressed concern over what was described as the “narrow language” of the resolution.
The committee also voted 8-2 against supporting a resolution permitting 16-year olds to vote in municipal elections. Members Dawn Byers and David Forth voted to support it.
Byers, who was to be the W-H delegate to the MASC meeting held via Zoom Saturday, Nov. 7, was urged to speak to the concerns of the committee members who opposed or abstained on the matter. Amendments are possible from the floor during the meeting.
Committee member David Forth said the window for amending resolutions has closed. Small expressed concern that doing so could be in violation of the open meeting law.
“I just think it’s unfortunate that this congregation of people — it’ll be on record that W-H School Committee did not support this initiative,” Vice Chairman Christopher Scriven said of the inclusion and diversity resolution. “I think that speaks to something.”
“My fear is, you support something like this and you have people that are forgotten in the wind,” Small argued. “There should be no place for racism in our society today. Period. We should do everything we can to give a diverse, proper education to every student.”
Byers asked those voting against or abstaining to forward her a summation of their objections and she would present them.
A paragraph urging a curriculum teaching the history of racial oppression and works by Black authors and works from diverse perspectives, drew the most criticism from opponents.
“I think it is too narrow of a picture,” Small said. “I think it, while definitively there is no place for racism in our schools or in our lives, I feel it’s very narrow and doesn’t address the racism that many different classes face and I can’t support a resolution that would be so narrow in scope.”
Small instead argued that races to be included in instruction be specified.
He cited the Japanese internment camps during WWII, and anti-semitism, among other issues that are not addressed.
“All we’re trying to do is support this effort,” Scriven said, noting he has no problem with the resolution and believes the schools should do everything in their power to hear all voices.
“If this is the start of what you’re looking for, Mr. Small, to include more voices, then I feel we should absolutely support it,” Scriven said.
Member Hillary Kniffen said language of inclusion and diversity within the resolution addresses the populations Small spoke about.
“I don’t see this as being singular, I see this as equity, diversity,” she said agreeing.
Byers read part of the resolution — which concludes with “all lives cannot matter until Black lives matter” — into the record.
Small said that language should be changed to reflect that all lives matter.
Howard said there would likely be broadly supported, but said there is some “challenging language” within it. He noted that he found difficulty with the term “systemic.”
“When you start specifying one race over all other races, that’s racism in itself,” Cullity said.
“Say we all had a word that we didn’t like … do we get the spirit of this?” Scriven asked. “Is this even binding or is this just to show that we’re conscious of these particular issues?”
Scriven said that, as far as he could tell it is a non-binding document.
“Are we going to nit-pick it or are we going to say this is a pretty good idea?” he said.
Howard noted that abstention was always an option.
“Someone took the time to write these words, and these words do matter to me,” he said, noting the MASC will use the resolutions to lobby on Beacon Hill.
“If we vote in the negative, or abstain, I feel as though we miss an opportunity for the bigger issue at hand,” Scriven argued. “I think it’s incumbent upon us to support any efforts toward diversity and equality.”
He said that, while it’s not necessarily going to be perfect, the district would be on the right side of the issue.
Kniffen said the purpose of public schools is inclusion and that should be focused on.
Forth supported the 16-year-old vote resolution, saying the youth vote in the 2020 election was at record numbers, according to Harvard Institute of Politics exit polling.
“It seems to be a growing trend and more people are being invested in civics education, they’re trying to understand what’s going on politically,” he said, noting he registered to vote at 16. “I do feel there would be more engagement, especially at the local level.”
Forth argued the measure, if successful, could inspire more young people to become invested in local government.
Kniffen said it would align with the civics course work that students in would have to take in 2022, but as someone who interacts with 16-year-olds on a daily basis, she said she has a lot of concerns.
“There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with placing a vote and I just don’t know if a 16-year-old has that maturity,” she said, stressing that she was not making a blanket statement.
Small said that, since people cannot enter into a binding contract at 16, or buy a vehicle or obtain a credit card.
“There are many things you are not allowed to do as a 16-year-old,” he said. “There are federal rules and regulations that are imposed on [them], and I just don’t know if it will be the wisest thing. A vote is a privilege, a vote is a precious thing.”
The U.S. Constitution, however, describes “the right to vote” in Section 2 of the 14th Amendment, and imposes a penalty on states that abridge or deny “the right to vote.” Exceptions outlined in the document pertain to questions of citizenship or criminal conviction, which some states have challenged recently.
Small also questioned the capacity of people that young to take voting seriously or fully understand all the ramifications of it. He also said schools need to do a better job of teaching civics.
Resolutions opposing MCAS and high-stakes testing; supporting state funding for COVID-19; supporting federal stimulus spending for K-12 education; retention of Medicaid revenue; limiting U.S. funding for private schools during COVID; membership of a school committee member on the DESE board; providing equity for LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff where gender identity is not listed as a protected class in federal laws; and monitoring of student attendance during the pandemic were supported unanimously.