NA For Change Responds to the NA School Board President’s June 24 Closing Remarks

NA For Change respectfully sends the following statement to the North Allegheny School Board following the School Board President’s remarks on June 24, 2020:


Dear North Allegheny School Board,

We appreciate the attention you gave us during our speaking time at the June 24th Regular Meeting–we were galvanized with the turnout that appeared at yesterday’s meeting, and we remain steadfast in our pursuit of moving the district forward in meaningful ways to create an actively anti-racist environment for NA students, faculty, and administration.

We are attaching a copy of a transcript that has been requested by a few members of the School Board of the relevant discussion that ensued; the transcript begins with the comments given by Class of 2020 alumnus Jaime Martinez and ends with Board President McClure’s closing remarks.

In addition, we would like to express our dissent on multiple aspects of Mr. McClure’s closing remarks.

Many students, both current and former, had to muster up much courage to publicly express their difficult truths; however, what compelled them to dial in was the fact that they all aspired to change–to a school board and school district that would pay attention. They innately believe their statements will not be in vain. Their courage in speaking out has only inspired us to continue to do this meaningful work; their experiences are deplorable, and their experiences are also completely valid.

As our lead organizers are all alumni (for the moment), looking back at our time to NA, we see a large breadth of experiences; among our lead organizers, we have 2 senior class presidents, 1 MSU president, athletes, cheerleaders, and self-described “floaters” who went on to illustrious and involved college careers. Our movement is made up of students/alumni from all walks of the school: academics, athletes, student leaders, theater kids, and the kids who fit no description. All of us bring different experiences to the table, and the fact that some of us, among other minority students, may have been involved in student elections does not discount the fact that deplorable incidents happen and that a culture of ignorance runs rampant in the hallways of our schools. In fact, past leadership involvement should lend more credibility to our claims as we prove we hold personal affections to our school district and that, as former elected student leaders, we hold a more nuanced understanding of the experiences students have on the daily, a much more nuanced and accurate perspective than what a “quick review” of demographic statistics will tell you. Being a Class President will never shield you from criticism–and especially racism. Using our student initiative in the district as a way to implicitly discount the testimonies of NA students and alumni is immensely disappointing and deflating; the NA community deserves better from their elected officials.

While we are also proud of the recent strides NA has made towards bringing awareness to diversity, it is becoming obvious that these efforts are not enough, as evidenced by last night’s testimony (which does not include the many other voices who did not attend the meeting but have a story to tell). We strongly believe that pointing to a 2019 Diversity Committee report and expressing “pleasure” at the progress the District has made through their “countless activities” after more than an hour of testimony describing the contrary came off as tone-deaf. Instead of showing an explicit and attentive deep concern for the issues happening under your leadership, the closing remarks appeared to rebut much of what students themselves witnessed; it appeared to rebut their truths. We felt this to be divisive in a moment with a great potential for solemn and determining unity. As our NA For Change Task Force has extensively analyzed the Diversity Committee Report, among many other reports, we understand that we could “spend the next half-hour” reciting the activities; however, we conclude the investment is not enough. This is why we have proposed an extensive amount of initiatives that students themselves believe would be much more meaningful than what is taking place now. These are students who walk the hallways every day; who are witnesses to ignorance and prejudice; who impressively muster literal golden valor, at such a young age, to devote their time and passion to such a large initiative like NA For Change. They are inspired; they found something with a personal stake and are working fervently with contagious optimism. We implore you to listen to the people you promised you would most listen to when running for your seats; the future of our students, our community, and our society are at stake.

Further, we understood your comments on teaching at home to implicitly pass the buck to parents when it comes to this important subject; the school district must be as devoted, if not more, to the social development of a child. Education is holistic–every day, in the school buildings, students gain countless new social experiences, along with the impressive education NA prepares students with. Most kids are learning racism from their parents and peers; we do not have to look too far in this district to see evidence of that. The most recent example is the man who spoke about our “Marxist” beliefs, and how students speaking their truths coupled with proposals for a better future “are really wrong for society”. It is the job of a school to contextualize and challenge beliefs to give students a broader world view, thus truly “preparing them for a changing world.” We hope and expect the district, and especially the school board, to take this work up as eagerly (if not even more) as the Board speaks of the importance of other wellness initiatives, along with the (successful) holistic view the district approaches education.

Lastly, we were very troubled with the use of the word “assimilation” during these remarks, as this word runs contrary to the thesis of diversity itself. This word sparked much anxiety not just among ourselves, but amongst the greater NA For Change community, and the North Allegheny community. We must respect everyone’s identity and work to uplift each culture, making people aware and knowledgeable of the experiences of those who may not look like us or live like us. We expect to share the same stance as the North Allegheny School Board. The retrograde approach to diversity that was mentioned in the closing remarks last night is absolutely demoralizing.

We are not alone in our disappointment; the community’s solidarity against these remarks is and continues to be loud and clear.

After receiving multiple troubling messages from the community, we feel that an apology either from the School Board or the School Board President for the less-than-respectful manner in which the remarks were made, which caused emotional distress, is appropriate. We hope and feel as if NA is willing to change for the better, but these remarks set back that sentiment among many in our community; we feel that a public apology would restore faith in the school district amongst the community, and most importantly, your students.

Again, we appreciate the time and attention you devoted to us; our intent is not to denigrate the school board or distract from our urgent message; instead, we are calling for positive change and hope to work with you in substantive ways very soon. We are excited to further explain our proposal to you, and cannot wait to see the change that we can together accomplish! Through cooperation and consensus, we can usher in a new era for this school district: one where every student feels supported.

Respectfully,

NA For Change

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