MAU to host forum on racial disparities in education

BENNINGTON — Next Tuesday the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union and the Agency of Education will host a forum on the topic of racial disparities in Vermont's education system.

The forum, which is being billed as a community dialogue, will feature a slew of notable speakers including Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcome, Martha Allen, executive director of the Vermont National Education Association, and Mikaela Simms, Diversity Coordinator at Brattleboro High School. Also in attendance, but not confirmed as panel members, will be Agency of Education Project Manager Chris Case and Emma Louie, Agency of Education multi-tiered system of supports coordinator. The panel discussion will be facilitated by Burr and Burton Class of 2012 member Naomi Johnson.

"It is important that we are willing to have courageous conversations on issues of race, in order to ensure equity for the entire educational community," said SVSU Superintendent Jim Culkeen. "These dialogues are occurring in schools all over the state. I am pleased to have Secretary Holcombe and her team, here in Bennington to lend support as we forge a path forward."

The event will take place at Mount Anthony Union Middle School from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 27. Public are invited to attend and participate in the free event, and there will be refreshments and childcare provided.

The Vermont legislature has considered a number of bills addressing racial disparity in recent years. In 2017, it established Act 54, "An act relating to the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel," which created and laid out the goals of a panel to interrogate and develop solutions on racial disparities in Vermont state systems, including education.

Last December, the Vermont Human Rights Commission and Attorney General's Office produced a stakeholder informed report with key findings and recommendations. The report highlighted challenges and opportunities for improvement in these areas of education: Disciplinary measures and restorative practices; Diversity in school staffing and administration; Curriculum that is representative, culturally responsive and, inclusive of accurate indigenous history; and achievement gaps for children of color.

The Vermont legislature is currently considering H.794, known as the "Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools" bill, which seeks to improve education standards and establish a model policy on ethnic and social equity practices for Vermont schools. At an event in Bennington on Wednesday, Vermont American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director James Lyall praised the bill for having the potential to introduce a curriculum that ensures students are exposed to more than just straight, white experiences, saying, "Nothing could have a bigger impact, in my view."

Representative Kiah Morris (D-Bennington) was the lead sponsor for both Act 54 legislation and the Ethnic and Social Equity bill. She will be present at Tuesday's forum to provide a summary and review of the aforementioned report.

"The passage of ACT 54 served as a catalyst to encourage meaningful assessment of racial disparities in Vermont and provide an opportunity to learn more about what is working and where we need to improve," said Morris.

Derek Carson can be reached at, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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