At North Valley High School Tuesday afternoon during a Washoe County School District Board of Trustees meeting, student leaders and representatives from various schools in the Washoe County poured their hearts out to express that they are continuing with their student-led movement, WCSD4Change, that started in August this year.
WCSD4Change has been working with the school district to ensure a curricular reform to promote anti-racism in the schools within the school district. In the Tuesday meeting, the board brought and discussed Resolution 20-011 a resolution stating, “discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated” and resolving “to create a system wide commitment to creating an unbiased, inclusive and anti-racist society through education.”
The motion came from school board Vice President Angela Taylor and was seconded by Trustee Katy Simon Holland earlier this year. Holland also suggested inclusion of Asian-Americans amid marginalized groups in the resolution. The suggestion was accepted.
Prior to presenting on the resolution,Chief Strategies Officer Paul LaMarca said the resolution was the result of the district responding to “raw” and “recent” events in the country surrounding the killings of Black individuals, including Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.
He said of the resolution, “Our district espouses that it welcomes and includes all individuals, and so this might be an important next step in fulfilling that obligation.”
Once the floor was opened for public comment, students weighed in. “As an Indigenous woman, I was rarely taught the history of my people,” said Lilinoe Simpson, a senior at Wooster High School. “We are on the Washoe people’s land, yet I have never heard their stories.” Simpson is a member of WCSD4Change and identified as a female and an inter-sex person.
Simpson referred to discussion of indigenous people “only in the context of” tortures and atrocities done on them by the colonizers.
“Ultimately, the school district should represent its student body population.”
“My people are more than what colonizers did to them,” she said, adding that the current curriculum “falls flat” on teaching history that is not eurocentric.”
Ava Boehm Jackson, an eleventh-grader at Reno High School, also weighed on the importance of the anti-racism curriculum.
“I have been lucky enough to grow up with parents who show me where my textbooks failed,” she said. “But it is not our parents’ job to reteach racist history because our classrooms are failing to provide information in an inclusive and supportive way. It is the school district’s job to incorporate inclusive teaching into everyday education because, ultimately, the school district should represent its student body population.”
Early on in the meeting, Board President Malena Raymond discussed the Resolution- 20-011 and why it was introduced. “In these unprecedented times we take great pride in making it our priority to make sure that we are protecting the civil rights of our students and we are committed to embracing equity and culturally responsive practices in all facts of our organization,” said Raymond.
“We will create affinity groups, where students and staff can safely share lived experiences and build deeper connections,” she said, clarifying that “when speaking of equity we are not speaking only of racial and ethnic diversity, but equity based on gender, sexual orientation, religion and abilities.”
“WCSD is committed to ensuring equity, access and inclusion for all,” she added.
During the discussion, school district superintendent Kristen McNeill remarked, “This has been a long time coming. I truly support and I hope that the board would support the adoption of this [anti-racism] resolution.” She said she looked forward to the discussion on board policy 13.10 in the upcoming Nov. 10 meeting.
By the end of the meeting, the school district and its students made their stand clear on supporting the anti-racism resolution 20-011, which the board of trustees passed unanimously.
Families will be involved in the process in deciding how WCSD will be implementing diversity work, curriculum and outreach, said the board.
Board Policy 13.10
Students also expressed their opinions on board directive 13.10.
WCSD4Change, the largely student-led movement, has been asking the school district to reverse its directive 13.10 which prevents teachers from supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQ+ issues within the school premises. During the meeting, WCSD4change also stressed the importance of an anti-racism curriculum and its collaborative work with the school district to bring about the changes.
Mia Albright, a Junior at Reno High said that, “BLM is not political for biracial students like” her. In a separate interview, Albright told This Is Reno that her parents are white and Nicaraguan and, for her, movements for equity and anti-discrimination are about “life,” not politics.
During her speech, she said she has had experiences of racism that made her ashamed of her Latino identity and left her wanting to fit in with the white culture.
Isabel de la Garza Gibson, a junior at the Northstar Online Academy, also represented WCSD4Change and spoke about the irony of the situation as a large body of students in the school district identify as diverse, 3,000 among them biracial, she said.
“Why are those lives so controversial?” she asked. “Why has an anti-racial environment become a controversial topic within our school district?”
“The topic has become uncomfortable; however, if a topic has become uncomfortable, it means that it needs to happen,” de la Garza Gibson added.
During the course of the meeting, president Raymond said the board will review and discuss 13.10 in its Nov. 10 meeting to be held at Galena High School beginning at 2 p.m.
This agenda item will not be heard until 4 p.m. or later, Raymond said.
“During the past few months my fellow trustees and I have heard many public comments on board policy 13.10 pertaining to political activity in school,” said Raymond. It “is not a new policy and has been in place for sometime,” she added. However, it is important for the board of trustees to provide effective feedback to ensure that it is giving “valuable guidance to the schools, students and staff,” she said.
Raymond also welcomed people invested in the issue to make public comments, which can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by email or in person on the day of the meeting.
Sudhiti (Shu) Naskar is a multimedia journalist and researcher who has years of experience covering international issues. In the role of a journalist, she has covered gender, culture, society, environment, and economy. Her works have appeared on BBC, The National, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Reno Gazette-Journal, Caravan and more. Her interests lie in the intersection of art, politics, social justice, education, tech, and culture. She took a sabbatical from media to attend graduate school at the University of Nevada Reno in 2017. In this period, she has won awards, represented her school at an international conference and successfully defended her thesis on political disinformation at the Reynolds School of Journalism where she earned her Master’s in Media Innovation.