Superintendent, principals address racial bias in Hopkinton schools

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Conversations about race can be difficult, but they are vital — and they are happening in the Hopkinton schools, superintendent Carol Cavanaugh, Hopkinton High School principal Evan Bishop and Hopkinton Middle School principal Alan Keller said Aug. 12 during an appearance on HCAM-TV’s Hopkinton Hangout Hour.

“It’s important to know how to talk to each other, and to have the courage to do it,” Cavanaugh said during the program, which was devoted in its entirety to the issue of race in the Hopkinton schools.

The issue has been brought to the forefront because of the national dialogue and response to the death of George Floyd, who was being restrained by white police officers in Minneapolis. But on a more local level, conversations have centered in part around an Instagram account, BIPOC at Hopkinton.

The account is devoted to “anonymously sharing stories of racial bias and discrimination within Hopkinton as experienced by staff, students, and alumni,” according to the site description.

Individuals have anonymously written about incidents when they were subjected to racism, including the use of the N-word, and offensive comments about their sexuality.

The site was a “real wake-up call,” Keller said.

After reading the posts, Bishop said he had to “step back and reevaluate” how students were feeling. He praised the “brave students” who were willing to share their experiences.

Although he said he encouraged an open dialogue, “clearly, students don’t feel they have a voice,” he said of the posters to the site.

“We can’t shy away anymore,” he added. “We have to be brave enough to have the conversation.”

The change will not happen overnight, the speakers said.

Every aspect of education, including curriculum, decision-making and policies, needs to be viewed through an “anti-racism slant,” Bishop said.

Bringing in a lecturer to address the topic of diversity and inclusion or making a simple policy alteration does not create positive change overnight, they noted.

“This is hard work,” Bishop said. “It’s going to take time. It takes a lot of voices.”

Cavanaugh agreed, saying, “It takes about 10 years” to make a serious difference. But as educators, the tools are there, she added.

“Our job is education,” she said. “The only way you affect change is to educate, educate, educate.” That education needs to happen across the entire school population, she said.

When students are called out for racist behavior, the education portion is as important as any potential punishment, the administrators said.

“We’re in the education field to educate, not necessarily to punish,” Bishop said. “Consequences are important, but there needs to be a really rich dialogue with the student and parents about the comment, about the action” that was offensive.

Keller said he tries to “teach the student what they did was wrong” while working to “make the victim feel whole again.”

Although much work lies ahead, the schools have taken several steps to address the issues.

Hopkinton recently received a grant to bring in a consultant to help work on these issues across all school levels, Cavanaugh said.

A book club for teachers centered around the topic of race.

The Diversity Club at Hopkinton High School will host Let’s Chalk, a community wide event tentatively set for Sept. 2. In this event, community members will be encouraged to write messages of support for inclusivity and and unity on their driveways in chalk..

Starting a historic and unprecedented school year with a message of diversity and tolerance speaks volumes about the district’s priorities, Bishop stated.

“It’s a nice way to kick off our school year,” he said.

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