On December 17, we held our second "real" open board meeting and the last of 2018. The McGee Chamber Choir opened our evening with two carols and a song about mental health and suicide. I don't think there were many dry eyes after that performance.
The trustees had the opportunity to address two emergent issues during the meeting. Both are related to the safety. The first was around the safety of elementary school students, which was where Trustee Cho asked for a review of safety procedures in our schools. It was passed unanimously and the staff will be reporting on the topic in February, preliminarily, and more fully by April.
The second was regarding a student at one of our secondary schools creating and posting a video with violently anti-black racist content. The video itself was horrific and the staff is working with the families affected as well as the student who created the video, but it's become a district-level issue. There is a sense that we're not doing enough to make it better, and we heard from the audience that we're actually making it worse. We had a very tense meeting where we didn't have answers prepared for the questions of the audience, and audience members were frustrated by, from their point of view, many years of lack of answers. From our point of view, with many new trustees and new members of the senior management team, as individuals we had five minutes of recess to prepare for answers; but from their point of view it has been a systemic problem with no end in sight.
I've had a short meeting with Trustee Reddy to debrief afterwards. We talked about many things and tried to come up with next steps as well as a long term plan to bring their voices to the table. Here is a listing of my learnings and next actions (which are likely differently from hers and those of other trustees/staff and I speak only for myself):
- It was clear that the audience did not feel heard. The actions related to this would be:
- In the moment, we needed to better reflect and speak to their needs. We hear their anger and we can also feel frustrated by our own efforts to improve. There is an opportunity to use nonviolent de-escalation rather than the very classic colonial way of removing discomfort: move the people out of the room.
- Focus on finding neutral words and accept responsibility where appropriate.
- It was very uncomfortable to be accused of being complicit with violent racism. In discomfort, it can get more difficult to hear others. Work on myself/ourselves so that we could hear them in spite of the discomfort, or get comfortable in this zone and type of discourse.
- Find ways to hear them outside of the board room.
- The audience members interrupted and heckled staff as they made their reports.
- I understand the audience's frustration and, based in their stories, believe their anger was appropriate. However, I believe it should have been directed at the trustees. Staff take direction from us. The district and staff are our responsibility and I don't believe it is right or helpful to show disrespect at members of staff. I wish in hindsight that I had said something along these lines at the meeting. I thanked the staff for their willingness to stay with the audience after the meeting to further the discussion.
Other trustees and staff will have different but related lessons-learnt, and I'm certain as time goes I will extract more learnings from this evening -- there's more to unpack that I haven't been able to put to words yet.
Learning in public is messy. Thank you for reading and happy new year.