Piedmont schools still reeling from viral ‘white student’ post

“If we silence those who take risks and make mistakes along the way, we discourage others from stepping forward to enter into this important work at a time when all of our words are so highly charged and under such scrutiny,” said PUSD board President Cory Smegal, above. (Anda Chu/BANG archives) 

Smegal responded in kind.

“Over the past week, our district has received a lot of public attention. Poor phrasing in an email resulted in an invitation coming across as an insult. Our students were the first to call attention to it, and they were right to do so. The leadership response was swift and direct — an apology, an explanation. But we understand that all of these caused harm that needs repair. Tonight we confirm our commitment to racial justice and continuing the work of anti-racism,” Smegal said.

“Now this week, some are telling us that these efforts are not enough and that there needs to be consequences and more accountability,” Smegal continued. “Tonight, the Piedmont Board of Education again affirms what we testified to last summer, when we passed a board resolution condemning institutional and systemic racism. In the resolution, we committed to doing anti-racist work as individuals and as a board. We committed to keeping anti-racist values at the forefront of our work and to embed these values into our decisions, our actions, our policies and our procedures.

The board of the Piedmont Unified School District has affirmed the hiring of Dharini Rasiah, above, as the district’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion. (photo courtesy of Pacific Ridge School) 

“Our students have made it clear that anti-racism calls for truth and integrity. Our principals understand that the work of anti-racism requires the courage to show up and step outside of comfort zones and that despite the best intentions, sometimes things go wrong. And over the past week, we have all experienced the painful reality that mistakes on the road to becoming anti-racist can invite hasty judgment. If we silence those who take risks and make mistakes along the way, we discourage others from stepping forward to enter into this important work at a time when all of our words are so highly charged and under such scrutiny.”

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In other business: Also at last week’s meeting, the board affirmed the hiring of Dharini Rasiah as director of diversity, equity and inclusion. Rasiah, with 30 years in the field of education, was chosen from 40 applicants for the position. A panel of 17 stakeholders — staff, teachers and citizens — reviewed the top candidates who were asked to submit a video that spoke to their experience plus a three- to five-page statement about themselves.

“She (Rasiah) will do racial equity work, policy development and oversee actions to support the team on that topic,” Wozniak said.

“I am anxious to meet the team and do that work with a district that gets it,” Rasiah said.

Linda Davis is a longtime Piedmont correspondent. Contact her with news tips or comments at

PIEDMONT — The Piedmont Unified School District board at its meeting last week continued to reel from the effects of a posting about a “white student support circle” that went viral and drew regional and national media attention.

PUSD Superintendent Randy Booker was inundated with media inquiries and put on the spot to answer if Wozniak’s advisory was a poor choice of words or intentional. (D. Ross Cameron/BANG archives) 

Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Wozniak sent out an April 21 advisory to school families calling for a support circle in which white students would discuss the verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial over the death of George Floyd. Meant as a forum for the district’s white students to discuss their role in improving race relations, abolishing white supremacy and being allies to people of color, Wozniak’s advisory was shared soon after on TikTok, creating a firestorm of controversy. District students of color and their allies were outraged at Wozniak’s words, interpreting them as support white students over those of other races.

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PUSD Superintendent Randy Booker was inundated with media inquiries and put on the spot to answer if the advisory was a poor choice of words or intentional. Any apology seemed inadequate, and the support circle was canceled.

The student population in Piedmont schools is about three-quarters white and one-fifth Asian. A black student union has formed, and the district has been acutely aware of inequities and has taken steps to change them by raising awareness and passing policies to address that since last year. Booker and PUSD board President Cory Smegal responded at the start of last week’s board meeting.

“We apologize for the harm that has been caused by events and intend to repair that harm,” Booker said. “My role is to call out systems of structural oppression; inequities that promote them led to where these exist in our district. We need to live up to our board policy on racial equity. It’s still in infancy steps. We are working hard to catch up and not shrink back. We need to learn

Source:: East Bay – Entertainment

      

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