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Column: Lebanon fails to address racism in its schools

Published: 9/9/2021 10:09:56 PM
Modified: 9/9/2021 10:10:05 PM

The Lebanon School District has not done nearly enough to address racism and other inequities in its institutions.

For some, that may be a hard concept to accept; many of us who are privileged view these types of problems as things they have in “other” places, not here in the Upper Valley. In light of the many hours of community testimony calling for the removal of the school resource officer position, it would be fair to ask Superintendent of Schools Joanne Roberts: “Do Black lives matter to you?”

The superintendent, some School Board members and Lebanon Police officials have all advocated for keeping the SRO position, despite the citywide vote (“Lebanon voters reject school resource officer,” March 10) and community testimony calling for the position to be removed.

The most distressing part of this shameful story is that Roberts asked the opinion of the Students of Color Collective, a support group for students of color at Lebanon High School, and then proceeded to publicly gaslight the group.

The Students of Color Collective issued a strong and thoughtful statement about how police did not belong in schools. It was ratified by more than 100 students at Lebanon High School. Those students put themselves at risk by issuing that statement, and Superintendent Roberts responded to their moral courage by claiming that the Students of Color Collective statement was somehow not a true reflection of students’ opinions.

You couldn’t ask for a more perfect example of how racism operates in our district.

Roberts chose not to stand up for the district’s BIPOC students. She chose not to listen to the majority of community voices, the teachers union (“Schools are no place for armed police,” May 10), or even the principal of Lebanon High School, who said, “If there is any population in our building that feels unsafe as a result of the SRO in the building ... I’m concerned about that (“Lebanon debates need for police officer in schools,” April 30).

Instead, Roberts followed the advice of the attorneys who represent the district, and she chose to maintain the harmful status quo.

We are hoping the community of Lebanon will stand up for our students and ask for the school resource officer position to be removed from the Lebanon School District budget. Please contact the SAU 88 office at 603-790-8500 to let Superintendent Joanne Roberts know she represents the children of our district — all of them — not the police or any other instruments of systemic racism.

Asma Elhuni, of Lebanon, is movement politics director for Rights and Democracy New Hampshire. Miriam Ashton, of Lebanon, is a volunteer with Showing Up for Racial Justice and Rights and Democracy New Hampshire. Rory Gawler, of Lebanon, is secretary of the Upper Valley Democratic Socialists of America. Kira Kelley, of Hartland, is an attorney and a member of Rise! Upper Valley.

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