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Nevada Joint Union High School District forms task force on racism and bias

The creation of a racism and bias task force was “sparked” by a petition.

Sent to Nevada Joint Union High School District administrators and the Board of Trustees earlier this year, the petition proposed several actions. Updating mission statements and conduct codes to “outwardly express anti-racist and inclusive ideals” and expanding curriculum to facilitate in-school conversations on “race, privilege, allyship, and justice” were among them.

“We have for a long time been very conscientious in working on efforts to instill diversity, equity and inclusion education for our students, and also for our staff, in our role as a school district,” said district Superintendent Brett McFadden.



McFadden said the working task force would collaborate on specific recommendations — whether regarding changes or additions to curriculum, policies, or practices — which he would then present to the district Board of Trustees. The 50-person group, made up of current district students, alumni, staff, and other members of the community, plans to hold a Monday closed meeting virtually.

A DATA-DRIVEN APPROACH



Aurora Thompson, district director of career and technical education, said, “I am hoping through the task force we’ll review student data that points to what the actual culture is in our schools … rather than what our perception is.”

Thompson, who described herself as “very data-driven” in her approach, said data found in yearly California Healthy Kids survey reports “reinforces that idea that there is a trend of xenophobia driving up the instances of harassment and bullying on our campuses.”

These reports are compiled from a yearly survey of freshmen and juniors at each school. Thompson said that, in the last five years, all but one school in the district saw between a 6% and 15% increase in harassment or bullying. The exception, she said, was Ghidotti Early College High School, which saw a 5% decrease.

She said a good next step would be to look at Ghidotti — while taking into account potential “error” factors such as varying participation rates among students, and limited sample size — and analyze those students’ improvement for “keys” which could help students at the other campuses.

Nevada Union High School counselor Nicole Scott — an alumna of Bear River High School — said her experience having attended local schools as a person of color, and having felt for a long time she couldn’t speak up on racism, motivates her now as a member of the task force.

“I realize that I have to speak up for the kids we have now,” said Scott. She explained that, in her view, subconscious bias in the community is a major issue affecting people of color living — and going to school in — areas like Nevada County, where they don’t often see others who look like them. “I think, a lot of the time, the people around me don’t know that.”

Scott described a lack of community awareness when it comes to the instances of overt racism which occur in the county as well.

She recounted an incident which happened to her three years ago, in which she had left her home for a couple of hours one night and returned to find someone had left on her doorstep newspaper clippings she said made reference to a “master white race,” and a collection of racist newsletters.

“I’m afraid. And you shouldn’t have to be afraid in the community you live in,” she said. “If people say it doesn’t happen here, yes, it has.”

In her work as a counselor, Scott said her role is to show students that while their immediate surrounding area is “a wonderful, amazing place,” they will also benefit by broadening their horizons and gaining new perspective. She commended the district’s current students who have taken on a role in the task force, writing in an email, “I really respect them for sharing their thoughts and experiences and contributing to the group.”

A CONCERNED PARENT

Ken Santistevan, whose son graduated from Nevada Union High School this year, joined the task force after an exchange with McFadden he said made him feel optimistic regarding the district’s efforts against bias.

“We have a lot going for us in a positive way, as we are small, but it is going to take everybody in the community to come together and unify to do that,” said Santistevan. He described these issues as affecting more than just students’ time at school. “It’s on-campus, but it’s also off-campus. It’s on social media.”

Santistevan said that, as a Latino and gay parent, he found when moving to Nevada County six years ago that not many people looked like him in the community, and this evoked some fear.

One of his goals as a member of the task force, Santistevan said, would be not only to discuss racism but also bring light to sexism, homophobia, and the issues faced by students with disabilities. “There are many walks of life,” he said.

“This is the first time in my lifetime that I’m experiencing such a … divide within our country,” he said. “And Nevada City, Grass Valley, Penn Valley, our small communities, we’re not immune to this divide.”

On this effort taking place in the school district specifically, he said, “It’s instrumental. All those kids in the classrooms are our community.”

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com.


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