by John Lynch
During the evening of December 8th, a meeting of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District (FCUSD) board was held, and the topic a recent incident involving a remark made by a teacher at Sutter Middle School (SMS) was at the forefront of discussion.
Woody Hart, a history teacher at SMS, has come under fire for a comment he made to his 8th grade history class. The Sacramento Bee reported that a student in the class, thirteen year old Tyler McIntyre, filed a complaint regarding the comment which was made in front of the class as an attempted analogy for equality: “When you hang one black person, you have to hang them all (as) that is equality."
Further information regarding the events following this can be found in this report by the Sacramento Bee.
At the FCUSD board meeting, members of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) voiced that further action should be taken by both SMS and the FCUSD board. SURJ members focused on the importance of proper teacher sensitivity training, nuanced conversations in classes that correctly address topics of race and ethnicity, and the shift that needs to occur in the broader culture of FCUSD.
In a statement both shared at the board meeting and posted to the SURJ Facebook page, SURJ Sacramento members outlined a course of action for the school and district to take:
“SURJ Sacramento calls on our community to be engaged in this conversation, take a stand for racial justice, and in this movement for black lives. Tonight, we are demanding:
1. An official apology from the responsible staff to the student, the family, and the student body. The first step to addressing this incident is to acknowledge that the language reported is reprehensible and completely unacceptable; and
2. The establishment of a working group comprised of concerned community members, students, parents, and district representatives to develop a restorative justice response for this incident, as well as policies to prevent and respond to future incidents that compromise racial justice and the safety and wellbeing of all students.
The district can learn from this event. The district can work to ensure that its schools are welcoming, inclusive environments to all students. We look forward to working together to make that a reality. Community, we are inviting you to join us as we move forward in this conversation and in taking action. To ensure safety in our schools, we must do better. Our students deserve better.”
The next day following the meeting, the FCUSD Superintendent Deborah Bettencourt posted a public apology to the FCUSD Facebook page:
“An important message from Superintendent Deborah Bettencourt:
Dear Folsom Cordova families and community members:
As our students, staff, and families begin their hard-earned home stretch to Winter Break, I want to close this week by encouraging all of us to take the time to pause and reflect on recent events that have created difficult - but necessary - conversations in our school district.
For those that did not hear our Board of Education president last night, I want to first echo Mr. Ford’s remarks about the recent inappropriate lynching analogy made by a Sutter Middle School teacher, an incident that has been highlighted in news coverage: Put simply, it was wrong, and we are sorry. Racist statements - or any behavior that makes a student feel unsafe or singled out - have no place in our schools.
I am proud of the efforts of our schools and families to create safe, inclusive learning environments, and I know we will rise to the challenge. But can we also identify weaknesses in our system to better prevent something like this? In what ways can we make our teaching and leadership practices more culturally responsive? Are there barriers to closing the achievement gap that we have yet to examine?
For solutions, we must listen to input from our school communities. We heard many good ideas from concerned and caring community members at last night’s Board meeting. I urge you to reach out to me directly with your ideas, too: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are not a school district that shies away from the hard work needed to best serve our students. Thank you for your continued partnership and commitment to educational excellence.
SURJ Sacramento publicly responded, thanking the Superintendent for the apology and saying they looked forward to working together to address some of the questions she posed in her statement.
SURJ also added that they are “forming a work group of concerned community members, students, parents, and district representatives, and will plan to convene early next year to discuss our next steps to create a safer, more inclusive and just learning environment within the District.”
The video below includes all of the speeches given by SURJ members, as well as an introductory statement by board member Zak Ford.
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