The Juneau Tlingit & Haida Community Council, representing more than 5,000 members, has paid close attention to the racism issue plaguing schools. We discussed how prejudice and discrimination affected our own educational experiences and grappled with its longstanding and deep-rooted existence in our community and schools. We asked ourselves, as surely as many others have asked, where then do we begin?
We would reassure our children that we are listening. We hear your frustration and, for too many, your pain. We are touched by the heartfelt testimony of the six students who reached out at a JDHS staff meeting sharing their personal experiences with racism. By speaking out, they and other students rejected being "victimized." Instead, they became champions who inspired more purposeful action by school administrators to aggressively combat racism.
The district recently published a newsletter to staff about racism in the schools featuring articles, "Racism is not acceptable," by Peggy Cowan, superintendent; "A Call to Work Together," by Bernie Sorenson, assistant superintendent; and "Actively Dealing with Racism and Prejudice," by Deb Morse, Juneau-Douglas High School principal. Some of their inspiration, they said, comes from the student petition presented through the Coalition Against Racism and Discrimination in the Systems.
Their newsletter offers "Tips for Teachers and Schools:" Intervene when hearing bias-related comments and slurs. Use each comment as an opportunity to provide education and reaffirm school policy. Set the climate in classrooms early and as often as necessary, letting students know that bias-related harassment and slurs are not acceptable. Treat all forms of bias-related harassment as serious and preventable. Establish and publicize an anti-harassment policy that specifically includes racism. Train teachers and staff to intervene when hearing or seeing acts of harassment, especially those relating to racism. Support establishment of student clubs that support anti-racism. Introduce curriculum that includes Native - especially Alaska Native - people and history."
"Their word" bears repeating as their pledge to work aggressively toward fair and equitable enforcement of their Anti-Discrimination policy; and further, create "definitive solutions" for the good of all students who are entitled to a safe and healthy learning environment.
We commend the many caring individuals including (grand) parents, elected officials, district staff, and especially our students who demonstrated maturity and courage in bringing this harmful issue to the forefront. The battle against racial discrimination and prejudice requires a community effort and we stand ready to assist. We emphasize the same to our children, "Because we cherish you."
Juneau Tlingit & Haida Community Council