After protesting at Burlington High School last Thursday, a group of students took their complaints to the Statehouse on Thursday, joined by a contingent from Winooski High School. They met with the House Education Committee to air their grievances.
The students described a culture of discrimination at BHS, where English Language Learning (ELL) students – largely Somali and Nepalese – are outcasts among their peers.
Students said there is a lack of diversity both in the material taught at the schools and the teachers presenting it. They said there is no black history class, for example.
“I know how the United States developed … but I know nothing about some black people who did good history. Sometimes they say ‘Malcolm X,’ and I don’t even know that guy,” said Fama, a Burlington High School student, at the meeting.
“I’m really surprised there’s no course in black history at Burlington High School,” said committee chair Johannah Donovan. Donovan and other committee members said they felt the system had failed the students.
The students also said ELL classes are segregated in one school building separate from other classes held elsewhere on the BHS campus. This lack of integration, students said, doesn’t give ELL students a chance to utilize the language they’re learning in a social setting. They also said the ELL classes failed to adequately teach them English. In a list of demands the group brought to the meeting, they said they are “given the same materials every year; there is no progress.”
Burlington school administrators have been looking into the issue. In October 2010, the Burlington School Board authorized a Task Force on Diversity and Equity to assemble a report on the state of diversity and equity in Burlington’s schools and provide recommendations for a “strategic plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
The task force’s report, released in October 2011 calls for some of the same things the students demanded at the Statehouse, including “a multicultural mindset,” and “hiring staff of color and culturally competent staff.”
The task force report consists of a list of recommendations. The Diversity and Equity Committee is in the process of formulating the district’s strategic plan based on those recommendations.
The committee is scheduled to present the proposed plan in October 2012.