A shared experience: School board votes down student-led policy change
A student-written revision of the Nevada Joint Union High School District’s harassment policy won’t move forward after a 2-to-2 vote.
Trustees James Hinman and and Duwaine Ganskie voted last week to adopt the revised policy. Trustee Jim Drew and President Pat Seeley voted against.
Drew declined comment when contacted. The other trustees couldn’t be reached for comment.
The board is down to four following the departure of Area 2 Trustee Jamie Reeves, who resigned after announcing her move out of the district. Officials have said the board intends to fill her spot on June 8.
Student Trustee Anthony Pritchett was in favor of the adoption. However, Superintendent Brett McFadden said state law doesn’t allow a student board member to affect board policy.
“They’re there to represent students,” McFadden said, “… not to represent voters in the jurisdiction.”
The board had an informative discussion during the meeting, McFadden said, and part of the meeting was spent on the possible expansion of school policy that addressed diversity and inclusion issues.
Assistant Superintendent Dan Frisella said the primary sticking point for the revised policy had to do with how to address microaggressions on campus.
“It’s kind of covert, or slight, or indirect dig at a particular student group based off of race, ethnicity, sexual preference or gender. The individual making the gesture or remark does not intend it to do harm,” Frisella said, adding that a comment does not have to be violently derogatory to contribute to a hostile learning environment. “Certain individuals are looking for protection in this area. They are looking for policy that supports school staff taking action.”
Frisella said a microaggression could include “forgetting someone’s pronoun” or making a joke that buys into silly, albeit serious, racial stereotypes.
McFadden said society and its leaders are becoming more aware of what exactly microaggressions are and how they cause harm, “not only to individual victims but to the culture of the school and the effectiveness of the learning environment.”
McFadden described the student testimonials that preceded the policy review before the board vote as courageous.
“We had several students get up and say I’m African American, I’m Asian, I’m trans, I’m non-binary, explain and tell their truth, their shared experiences,” McFadden said. “These are students carrying high GPAs, involved in school leadership, and yet they are still the victims of student-to-student aggressions.”
McFadden said the intention behind bullying is to “diminish and hurt the feelings of another individual,” and noted the existence of race- or sexual orientation-based bullying in district campuses.
The district is “very aware“ of the increased antagonism, he added.
“The school district administration helped to put that agenda item together,” McFadden said. “We worked cooperatively with students and parents and outgoing board member Reeves to put that board discussion on the agenda.”
The vote followed a separate discussion that included “pretty raw testimonials from students and parents and staff members about perceived increases in bullying and harassment,” Frisella said, adding that the observations follow the high school’s return from distance learning.
“It was somewhat of a call to action for their educational partners,“ Frisella said, as those affected were looking to the school district, and, in particular, the board of trustees.
McFadden and Frisella agreed that being part of the whitest county in the state is no excuse for peers to not support one another in their learning experience, regardless of their race.
“It’s possible people haven’t had exposure,” McFadden said, “but regardless of how white we are as a county, we all know the difference between right and wrong. That’s an excuse, not a reason.”
Frisella said a certain level of education is needed across the organization to address hot button issues.
“If staff can’t identify these incidents, however major or minor they are, then they miss out on opportunities to educate our students,” Frisella said, adding “it doesn’t need to be done in a way that there are consequences. It’s a matter of awareness.”
Frisella said staff and students alike may be doing something offensive to individuals and not realize it.
“If they don’t know it’s offensive, there’s not a real reason to not do it,“ Frisella said. ”There’s definitely a need for education. The moral of the story is that we all have a lot to learn from each other — race, ethnicity, gender preference or identity aside.“
McFadden said that’s why the students took it upon themselves to draft a stronger and clearer policy.
“The two board members felt that existing policy and law were already sufficient to help discipline and dissuade that kind of behavior,” McFadden said. “My counter-argument to that is the more clear the board policies and regulations are then the less susceptible they are to misinterpretation.”
Frisella said he was not entirely surprised at the vote’s outcome.
“Inherently, I think the board does good by our students and staff,” Frisella said. “They have other constituent groups they represent and they have their own personal ideals. It’s a matter of us bridging gaps between student needs … and effectively take steps toward meeting those needs.”
District teachers and administrators will undergo another diversity and inclusion training in June, McFadden said.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com
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