In late May, a group of minority parents in the Valley Central School District founded Valley Central Parents for Social Justice. They seek to make their childrens’ school district free from racism, institutional and individual, which have plagued communities for years.
The group was founded by Noelia Santiago, Norelis Santiago, April Cotton, Tudian Payne, Lisa Ruiz and Sonia Lewis. Each of these founding members have a minority child in the district, with the exception of Ruiz whose child graduated this year.
The founding members created the group after discussing the prevalence of racism in the district. Lewis’ daughter was called a racial slur last year on a photo of her cheerleading team that was posted to the district’s page.
Norelis’ five-year-old nephew was not invited to a birthday party because he is not white. There have been examples of students being suspended from school for wearing cultural clothing.
“Yes, absolutely,” Norelis Santiago said regarding if there is racism in the district. “I think everyone in the group has seen systemic racism.”
Lewis pointed out that time after time in the past, when the district was notified of instances of racism, they failed to take action. This creates a negative environment for minority students, where they do not feel respected.
As of Monday evening the group had grown to 365 members on its Facebook page. Anyone who supports racial equality in the district can join.
“We, like our community, are of many different cultures and ethnicities,” the group said on their Facebook page. “We are united by the mission of racial equality and equity in our school district and community.”
The group held its first virtual meeting yesterday. They have started several committees to combat racism in the district, including: communications and media, community engagement, coalition building, events and fundraising, legal and leverage as well as youth engagement.
“We will need all of the experience, talents, skills, connections and work that we have as a community to confront, expose and change the long-standing systemic racism that so many students have been exposed to in our school district and community,” said the group’s founding members on their Facebook page. “This shameful legacy can end with us if we are willing to stand and work together now.”
To combat racism, the Valley Central School District has created the Racial Equity and Education Committee. April Cotton and Noelia Santiago attend their meetings as representatives of the Valley Central Parents for Social Justice.
During the district’s public hearing for the review of its code of conduct and plain language summary on July 6 the board of education took several actions pending review to condemn racism and promote equality.
All of the actions taken were pending review by the school attorneys as of Monday afternoon. One action was language to change the code of conduct to include adding cultural head wraps and scarves, including durags as allowed items in the school dress code. Another action was adding language to the code of conduct to include the words: racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semetic as well as actions that will result in disciplinary actions taken against the student, staff or administration. Banning of the Confederate flag from all school grounds and school sanctioned offsite events was another action taken. Once the rules have been approved, the board of education will then take a final vote on them and approve the change to the Code of Conduct.
A public statement was issued during the board of education’s reorganizational meeting/regular board meeting on July 6 condemning racism and bigotry in all forms and acknowledging that Valley Central is not immune to these issues. The board of education is committed to working with the community to solve these issues at Valley Central.