Tuesday evening, a small group of Rutland High students gave a presentation to the Rutland City Public Schools board. Three of the students are seniors and are black.
They told the board that they experience racial bigotry and are called slurs, calling out their color in a derogatory fashion. They told how it is systemic, citing the movie “Divided by Diversity” that shined the light on the problems not so many years ago that hurt our town and the students of color that came to study at MSJ. These students explained that there are few kids of color in our school, and that even their friends at times are not sensitive to their role in making situations uncomfortable by using words that offend.
They came to the board to request an opportunity for the School Board to recognize diversity and to make it public that our school wants all students to feel that they have a place, a safe place, in our school. They requested, in addition, to a committee consisting of students, staff and teachers dedicated to diversity and inclusion, to be allowed to fly the Back Lives Matter flag at Rutland High School as five other high schools in Vermont have during the past year.
Several of the comments made by board members were quite astonishing. Honestly, they were inappropriate and showed a serious misunderstanding of this very need for cultural sensitivity. Our superintendent explained that a course will be given to train our teachers regarding race soon and … I would challenge our School Board to attend the same training in order to be more informed by what our students were sharing with them.
As well, the general concern by the School Board members seemed to be that if we were to fly a Black Lives Matter flag, would we then have to fly a flag that our school institution supports gay and lesbian life as well? This clearly needs further discussion and input in how our city will tackle showing that we are inclusive.
Rutland is not culturally diverse. Vermont is one of the whitest states in America with 1 percent of the population being African American. Vermont has started a program to pay people $10,000 to come live here. I feel that even this will not gain us appreciable ground if, in part, our leadership continues to not listen to the people who are already here who are telling us that we are not inclusive, and that we are still tolerating racially insensitive actions and words.
We still have a long way to go, and if we do not take these messengers seriously, we will continue to lose our families and our kids to places where they do get it.
Eric Solsaa is a Rutland City resident and parent of a student at Rutland High School.