The Valley Central Parents for Social Justice (VCPSJ) called a press conference Friday at Berea Elementary School to make a public statement regarding what they describe as the district’s continuing failure to address, prevent and correct multiple incidents of racism that have occured at the school.
The group was formed in June 2020. Days after the murder of George Floyd, students made a series of insensitive posts on social media. This included photographs of students wearing blackface and reciting racial slurs. In response, parents began to talk in order to find a solution. They came to a consensus that the district and board of education need to do a better job of addressing racism.
“Their failure to properly handle incidents and to enact any sort of prevention makes the Valley Central School District as culpable as the perpetrators of these hateful actions and words,” said Lisa Ruiz, one of the founders of VCPSJ.
Since June, VCPSJ has made every effort to reach out to the district and board of education to come to the table and work with students, parents and concerned community members to create a learning environment that is safe and equitable for all students.
The responses received run from insincere support to outright refusal and mocking of the group.
The group also announced Friday that they found that the district has engaged in racism and nepotism in regards to their hiring practices. On several occasions they have ignored well-qualified minority candidates, claiming that they did not receive their applications.
Furthermore there is proof that current and past teachers have engaged in bigotry and misogyny without repercussions.
The VCPSJ stated their demands to the school district and community. They want all subjectivity and vague language to be removed from the code of conduct. In addition, they asked for immediate response to acts of racism. The district should hire more minority staff to reflect the diversity of its student body. Thirty-three percent of students in the district are minorities.
“Set the goal of having 30 percent of the staff be people of color,” said VCPSJ member Rhonda Armstrong. “Ten percent at least by Sept. 1 of 2021.”
The group also believes staff should attend mandatory, regular training on how to create an anti-racist learning environment.
Members of the VCPSJ have continued to receive notifications of racism in the first few weeks of the academic year. Incidents reported include a teacher supporting the Confederate Flag and a student crashing online classes where he uttered racial slurs.
Every day more parents are approaching members of the VCPSJ and telling them they want to get involved.
“I want my child to go to a school where they can be safe,” said Norelis Santiago, one of the founders of the VCPSJ. “I want my child to go to a school where everyone is safe. And that is why we are working so hard to do this.”
The VCPSJ requested an immediate meeting with Valley Central School District Superintendent of Schools John Xanthis and Board of Education President Joseph Bond.
At press time on Tuesday, the Wallkill Valley Times was awaiting comment from Xanthis and Bond. It was anticipated that the school board would discuss the matter at Tuesday night’s meeting