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Queensbury students discussing diversity, inclusion in wake of walkout

Queensbury students discussing diversity, inclusion in wake of walkout

Queensbury High School students on Sept. 23 staged a walkout to protest racist bullying that they said school administrators had failed to address and had resulted in multiple fights. Students have met in small groups since then to discuss issues of diversity and inclusion.  

QUEENSBURY — Queensbury students have been meeting in small groups to talk about diversity and inclusion in response to last month’s protest over racist bullying.

Dozens of students of color walked out of classrooms on Sept. 23, saying they have been the victims of racial slurs for years and they say administrators have turned a blind eye to the problem.

They also said they have been subject to attacks about their skin color, hairstyles and body weight. The situation had escalated to violence in the days before the walkout as students attempted to stop the harassment.

Colleen Sprague, K-12 guidance department chairwoman, told the Board of Education on Tuesday that six roundtable discussions were held after school from Sept. 27 to Oct. 4. About 30 students and 15 staff members participated.

The discussion was student-driven. School officials asked two questions: What issues need to be addressed in the school community, and what can school officials do to improve our school community?

Then, Sprague said they sat back and listened.

These conversations will continue at a “diversity summit” next week on Oct. 20 and Oct. 21 in which students will meet in two groups of 50 to continue these conversations.

“Our goal is to provide students with an open and safe environment to further these important discussions,” said Raychel Marcil, the school’s new director of social and emotional learning and school development.

School officials did not mention the walkout specifically in their presentation to the board. However, Principal Damian Switzer said diversity has been part of the district’s mission statement for 25 years. He said school officials have been doing a lot of listening and hopefully students will feel empowered to make positive changes.

“It’s important for all of our students to feel that connection to the district and to our school community,” he said.

The district is working to foster a more inclusive environment, say school officials.

Switzer said the district wants to teach compassion, kindness and empathy.

“Empathy is really about learning what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes,” he said.

Sprague said the district is working with Stacy Williams, an associate professor of psychology at Marist College, on diversity training. Queensbury school officials are having conservsations with the local chapter of the NAACP.

In addition, Sprague said select students and staff received training from the National Coalition Building Institute on how to create a school atmosphere that is safe and welcoming.

“We have a lot of things in the hopper, but the forefront is student voices; so we’re excited to see what’s next,” Sprague said.

Michael Goot covers politics, crime and courts, Warren County, education and business. Reach him at 518-742-3320 or mgoot@poststar.com.

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