The Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism (BCDR) Urges the District to Bring POC To the Table In Creating Their Corrective Action Plan (CAP), While Sharing Its Own Recommendations for the District’s CAP to Redress their “Racially Hostile Environment”

Just weeks after the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) issued its ruling against the Burlington Area School District (BASD) for their failure to redress their “hostile racial environment,” the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism (BCDR) has received additional reports of the District mishandling acts of racism in its schools.

Within the past week, BCDR received complaints from multiple people alleging that students of color were the targets of severe and pervasive use of racial slurs, harassment, and hate speech. According to evidence provided, students were called the N word multiple times and told, “fuck you skinny nigger kill yourself,” “ill make u pick my cotton“ and “Cops don’t need to be chasing people around because they said a bad word’ and “We’d (like) them to do more important things like catching people that are disobeying the damn laws not cause (because) a developing teenager said the N word so chill off”; amongst many other racially oppressive things.

Despite DPI’s ruling about the District’s responsibilities to ensure families are able to report harassment and to put the onus on the harassers when these situations occur, this is not what is happening. In fact, we’re told that the parent of one targeted student was reportedly ignored by Ms. Phillips, Karcher Middle School’s Assistant Principal, when they requested to file an official discrimination complaint.

“Ignoring a parent who is trying to file a complaint because of how their child was treated is evidence that BASD has already failed to implement the directives it received from DPI,” said BCDR Founder and President Darnisha Garbade. “DPI’s April 9th, 2021 ruling clearly states that, ‘At a minimum, the school’s responsibilities include making sure that the harassed students and their families know how to report any subsequent problems, conducting follow‐up inquiries to see if there have been any new incidents or any instances of retaliation, and responding promptly and appropriately to address continuing or new problems.’”

In another instance, the District also allegedly put the burden on the impacted child and their family, stating that the student should have defended themself, conducted their own investigation, and refrained from informing Burlington’s legislature about the incidents while simultaneously downplaying the racism. The District’s failure to act appropriately and impartially further contributes to the racially hostile environment that DPI’s investigation confirmed: “These (BASD’s) incidents reflect a persistent shifting of the obligation from both the district and the perpetrators to Student… to bear responsibility for the racially hostile environment. …BASD asked Student… to consider and change her own behavior to end the harassment while failing to effectively address the individuals perpetrating the harassment. BASD continually treated Student A as part of the problem instead of the target of the concerning behavior. This both perpetuated the racially hostile environment and is evidence of BASD’s failure to appropriately respond to the racially hostile environment.”

“As if it wasn’t bad enough for this parent to be ignored, the BASD added insult to injury by shifting the burden to the student of color,” Garbade continued. “Instead of telling the victim to consider how they should act in the face of racial harassment, the District should be seeking justice for the children of color who were impacted and addressing how the harassers should act differently.”

This is all evidence of what BCDR has been saying all along, which is that there’s a dire need for BASD to make some really drastic and effective policy changes. BCDR issued a letter to BASD on April 13, 2021 calling upon Superintendent Plank and the Board to collaborate with BCDR in discussing their corrective action plan, which DPI ordered to be completed by May 9th, 2021. BASD, however, responded by stating that “the Board needs to schedule a meeting to discuss the corrective action plan” and “Can’t commit to who we will involve in the process.”

While the District waits to meet, children of color are still suffering and enduring racism on their watch. BCDR is demanding that the District immediately provide supportive services for the impacted students.

Corrective Action Plan Recommendations for BASD

On April 9, 2021, the Wisconsin DPI ordered the Burlington Area School District (BASD) to submit, within 3O days, a corrective action plan specifying steps it will take to: 1) prevent further instances of discrimination in discipline; 2) adequately redress the racially hostile environment present in BASD; 3) review its past reporting on discrimination complaints to ensure compliance with BASD policies and procedures and enact clear guidelines for future reporting; and 4) revise its policies and procedures to ensure they are in compliance with the Wisconsin’s Pupil Nondiscrimination Administrative Code in addition to clearly defining policies that will address anti-racism and bullying being separate issues that may also intersect (but should not replace or be combined with each other).

Pursuant to DPI’s order, BCDR recommends that the District form an anti-racism committee that is led by people of color. BCDR offered to collaborate with BASD in developing a plan responsive to this order, but we were not included in the process. We have therefore independently developed a set of recommendations regarding the corrective action plan, which we’ve submitted for consideration by BASD and will submit to DPI.

In addition to the above mentioned, BCDR recommends that the District work with a local consultant (ie Tracey A. Benson Consulting, Overcoming Racism (OR), Great Lakes Equity Project, ICS Equity) with expertise in structural equity to implement the cultural inventory, staff training, and systems change elements of this plan. BCDR is also open to the District choosing another consultant, provided that consultant is chosen with input from families of color in the District.

Finally, BCDR recommends the inclusion of the following policies, protocol and procedures in the District’s corrective action plan:

Prevent further instances of discrimination in discipline

Unconscious bias training for administrators who handle discipline and any school staff with authority to make disciplinary referrals.

Require continual equity education for all faculty, staff, volunteers, and contractors (ie school bus staff).

Review BASD’s progress toward providing reasonable equity of educational opportunity and non-discrimination for all pupils within the District.

Adequately redress the racially hostile environment present in BASD

Conduct climate surveys, equity audits, as well as bullying and discrimination surveys.

Implement anti-racist literacy with students at all levels: 1) review all curriculum, classroom, library, and any other school materials for inequities, 2) remove any and all of the aforementioned that do not meet the criteria outlined in BCDR’s anti-racism policy that was previously submitted to the District, 3) rebuild literacy to be fully inclusive and representative of people groups of all races, which is reflected through the narratives, illustrations, authors, and characters.

Adopt and implement an anti-racist discipline policy that clearly defines racial discrimination, racial harassment, and retaliation, and expressly describes consistent District response, a plan to redress (including appropriate discipline and police referrals) and regular follow up with those impacted by discrimination. Adequately train staff on implementation of said policy.

Implement an educational campaign on how to file a discrimination complaint and utilize the student reporting app: 1) public training for families and students in both areas, 2) distribute and make visible available an informational pamphlet on each reporting method, 3) include in student registration materials for all families moving forward. Provide clear information on the process and what to expect, and make a clear statement about the District’s stance on anti-racism.

Adopt trauma-informed practices and implement when working with students of color.

Hire an Equity Director who is experienced with the work of antiracism and/or equity (preferably one of color) and mandate the district to employ more diverse staff.

Review its past reporting on discrimination complaints to ensure compliance with BASD policies and procedures and enact clear guidelines for future reporting

Update all previously falsified Pupil Nondiscrimination Reports & Bullying Reports to truly reflect the discrimination that is shown in BASD’s records; include all current and future acts of discrimination.

Revise policies and procedures to ensure they are in compliance with Wisconsin Administrative Code

Clarify the steps in the District’s process for deciding and reviewing complaints. Is Board review mandatory before going to DPI?

Update “Reporting Procedures” to be compliant with state law (Wis. Stat. 118.13) in expanding the ability to file a formal complaint to any district community member.

Clearly define policies that will address anti-racism and bullying being separate issues that may also intersect (but should not be combined or replace each other).