On Monday, members of the community and the Delaware African American Heritage Council (DAAHC) gathered outside Willis Education Center to protest the school district during the Delaware City Schools Board of Education meeting.
Heritage Council Chair Tamika Vinson-Reid organized the protest and spoke to the board during public participation Monday, stating the DAAHC has a list of issues it would like to see the district address when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
“The overarching goal of our protest is to enact change, while also raising awareness about the injustices happening to students and families within the Delaware City Schools district,” Vinson-Reid said in an email Wednesday.
Specifically, Vinson-Reid said she and others are protesting “a toxic school climate that harbors racial, homophobic, xenophobic and discriminatory practices,” as well as protesting the lack of protocol and process for student-reported racial incidents.
“Students deserve to feel heard, validated and believed,” Vinson-Reid said. “However, we have evidence that suggest that when a student reports a discriminatory event, it’s rarely escalated and the victim doesn’t receive proper restorative care. And, we know that when students are left to carry the burden of racial trauma, it increases the possibility of suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.”
Vinson-Reid said Delaware City Schools once had an administrative-level diversity position in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She added the district allowed the position to remain vacant after the previous diversity officer left the position.
“We want this role to be resurrected and retooled to meet present-day curriculum and climate challenges within Delaware City Schools,” Vinson-Reid said.
The district said Wednesday that when the diversity officer retired in 2005, the position’s duties were redistributed to other positions. The district added it maintained a Multicultural Committee for many years and it was reorganized as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee (DEI) in 2020.
Vinson-Reid said she’s also protesting the district’s curriculum, which she said “doesn’t reflect the full humanity and contribution of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), creating visibility into the myriad of experiences, historical and present, which lends itself to understanding, empathy and compassion.”
Vinson-Reid added she hopes that all students will hear more voices from other perspectives to grow their thinking.
The final issue being protested, according to Vinson-Reid, is the “lack of representative diversity among (the district’s) administrative and teaching staff.”
“Delaware City Schools is 20.6% ethnically diverse, however, its staff does not reflect this diversity,” Vinson-Reid said. “We want the district to establish a recruitment and retention plan to attract diverse administrators, teachers, counselors, and staff to the district.”
The district said Wednesday it currently works with a consultant through the Educational Service Center who helps “facilitate the DEI Committee, which consists of staff and students to help identify the needs of the district.” The district added some of the priorities that have emerged include recruitment strategies to hire/retain diverse candidates, providing culturally responsive professional development for staff, and integrating culturally diverse activities and teaching into the district’s curriculum.
Vinson-Reid said she applauds the district for its teacher-focused book studies, for developing the Diversity, Inclusion and Equity team, and for partnering with the Council for Black History Month, but she added those efforts “need to be anchored to a district-wide equity and inclusion strategic plan.”
“We want the school district to immediately implement the steps in our call to action because our students’ well-being depends on it,” Vinson-Reid said. “We know that continuing to foster a negative climate is costly, resulting in disproportionate students and families of color leaving the district, inability to attract high-caliber ethnically diverse candidates to the district, burnout and turnover of existing ethnic staff who are often misused as the ‘first line of defense,’ and discrimination lawsuits.”
She added the council plans to protest at every board meeting until the district responds.
“We have yet to receive a response from the district, but are hopeful they are willing to acknowledge the call to action and work together on making necessary changes,” Vinson-Reid said. “We appreciate all the current and former students, families, and residents who attended or spoke at the DCS Board of Education meeting, emailed letters of support, and protested outside of the Willis Education Building. Diverse in our response, we were unified in our mission to see the district implement the call to action.”
The district said Wednesday that inclusiveness remains a priority, and Delaware City Schools will continue to take forward steps.
“Fostering a sense of belonging and inclusiveness is a priority for our district, and we are committed to working with our community stakeholders as we continue to celebrate the diversity of our schools,” the district said in an email.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.