Racism permeates culture at central regional schools, students say

BERKELEY, NJ – Students, parents and educators of all races have come out to demand action from the school board and Central Region administration to address the racism they say permeates the culture at college and high school.

The energy at Thursday night’s board meeting was intense, as many students spoke out against board member Heather Koenig’s racist social media posts and similar issues with board member Merissa. Borawsky.

The two, who were elected to the board on the same slate in November, were absent from the meeting. Central Regional Superintendent Tom Parlapanides said the two were taking a planned vacation.

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The packed house followed complaints about Koenig’s posts filed by teachers and community members at the March 7 board meeting. Read more: Community speaks out against racist posts by central school board member

Parker Miller, a junior from Central Regional, shared a prepared speech insisting that changes must be made at the school, after being the target of racial slurs for urging students to come and speak at the meeting in sharing a racist social media post by another student. .

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Miller said she was suspended out of school. The student who posted the racist message, a selfie of the student with a sticker of a white fist reading ‘WHITE LIVES MATTER’ and a caption reading ‘Forge Gloydd’, has been suspended for half a day and returned the next day.

The day she returned, a student sitting next to her in class posted a photo of her on Snapchat with the caption “f–kn—” with the hard r, she said.

“Tonight I do not stand before all of you asking for appeasement or atonement,” Miller said. “Along with countless other peers, I seek change and action now.”

Miller said she wanted to get the ball rolling for change. Some of his ideas for an action plan encouraged the new student union POC, the formation of a diversity and inclusion advisory council, a plan to hire more black teachers and a formal apology from council members in question.

His speech received a standing ovation and many students and parents came out to share similar negative experiences they had at school.

Students and parents also said Miller’s experiences were not an isolated incident, but rather an entire culture that needs to be changed.

Ebony Rivera, mother of a Central Region student who teaches in Lakewood, said her son faced microaggressions, including comments made to him that he acted like he had “a noose around the neck”, which was shocked. audience response.

“In the 21st century, that’s completely unacceptable,” Rivera said. She said there needed to be diversity training for staff.

Several black students also shared their experiences. One said his class president said racism didn’t exist at school. Another said she was made to pretend to pick cotton during Black History Month lessons in elementary school. One said she was nicknamed the n-word when she was 9 years old. “It’s tiring, every day,” said one student. Many others have shared similar experiences.

Joeshun Miller, mother of Parker Miller, said she was tired of black students feeling unsafe at their school and wanted a solution.

She called the social media posts targeting her daughter “some of the most vile Snapchat posts”.

The positions, which Joeshun Miller presented at the meeting and were obtained by Patch, ranged from September 2021 to present. In a response to the ‘WHITE LIVES MATTER’ post, the student said “it’s not racist, it’s funny”. Another post from the same student read “if you’re offended by someone who sings n— in a song and thinks it’s racist, you’re f—ing p—y.” Yet another said “Teenagers used to lie about their age to get into war y’all p— now be offended when heads say f—t, r——d or n— like stfu” with a laughing and crying emoji. At the bottom, it was written “The facts of this generation are so sensitive”.

“We have to show up for these kids,” Joeshun Miller said. “And I’m glad they can show themselves too.”

Parlapanides insisted that the two members’ actions do not reflect the painting, to which an audience member reacted by shouting “So do something!” He again asked people not to judge the entire board for one or two bad members. The audience was reminded that the board cannot remove an elected member. An ethics complaint must be filed for action to be taken.

Parlapanides also shared the actions taken by the board. The first meeting of a newly formed equity committee was held on Thursday morning, and he said more information would come as the group developed. The board also adopted a new social media policy for members, prohibiting them from publicly posting comments harmful to the central regional community or comments that violate the School Ethics Act.

During the meeting, community members said they were concerned that these measures were not enough. Council members said the community could take action by potentially voting to recall members after the end of their first year, and repeatedly encouraged everyone to vote in November, when more council seats would be up for election. Many community members also urged everyone in attendance to return to every school board meeting with the same energy.

Emotions were running high, but students were proud of the actions they were taking to bring about real change in the school. Parker Miller said she knew things wouldn’t be easy for her in the future, but she was proud nonetheless.

“I know I have a target on my back now,” she said. “But I don’t care.”

Martha K. Merrill