Community members are calling on the town’s affirmative action committee to take action against racial inequality in the Falmouth schools. The entreaties were prompted by comments from former students claiming disparity in discipline at Falmouth High School.
“Once again I am learning that the institution charged with educating and protecting our children of color is falling short. Our children of color deserve to be taught by educators who value and protect them as if they were their own. The students are telling you what they need you to do. They are telling you how they feel. Do something,” Falmouth resident Nancy Thompson wrote in an email to the board.
At their Monday night February 8, meeting, board members read emails from residents citing what they called disparity and injustice occurring in the schools. The emails referenced an incident where two Falmouth teenagers were charged with felony assault last summer in connection with a beating of a teen from Franklin. The teens, who are white, were allowed to play sports for Falmouth Public High School this year.
Other former students who faced criminal charges were suspended from Falmouth High School until their cases were dismissed. They have spoken out publicly against what they see as unequal treatment. One of the former students is Black and the other’s father is Moroccan.
School Superintendent Lori S. Duerr said last week that she cannot comment on disciplinary action in order to comply with state and federal laws protecting student privacy.
An email from a woman who identified herself as Rachel said her elementary-age child already faces racially motivated issues in school.
“I am fearful of the future if there is not accountability and effective change,” she wrote. I urge the committee to get involved.”
Another person who wished to remain anonymous wrote that when Falmouth’s youths are not being censored, they are sharing their stories of disparities in the schools, harassment and discrimination.
“Where are the local leaders in Falmouth? This cannot just be another headline. It’s an opportunity to investigate and create a vehicle for change. The affirmative action committee needs to get involved to investigate these serious allegations,” she wrote.
“As you can imagine, there are some things that cannot be shared out of privacy because students are involved,” said committee member Natalie Kanellopoulos, who is also a school committee member.
“I assure you, nothing is being swept under the rug. Lots of hard questions are being asked and lots of expectations are being required and will be met. No one is being complacent on this issue,” she said.
Earlier in the meeting, committee members agreed to ask Dr. Duerr to speak at an upcoming meeting to talk about what the school administration is doing to address issues of inequality throughout all grades.
“This should not just be a conversation about the high school, but all levels,” select board member Nancy R. Taylor said. Ms. Taylor is the select board liaison to the affirmative action committee.
Committee members also said they would like someone from law enforcement to be a guest speaker at a later meeting.
Co-chairwoman Meghan Hanawalt said she would like to ask Police Chief Edward A. Dunne to join a meeting.
“Some of the disparities we are seeing in school are originating outside of school and they are definitely related to safety in our towns as well as school,” she said.
Committee member Debra Berglin suggested Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe or a representative from his office be invited.
“There has been a lot of press the last couple of years about his comments raising concern in the community about his feelings about equity when it pertains to court proceedings,” she said.
Ms. Hanawalt will be sending an invitation to Dr. Duerr to come speak to the board again, as the topic of racism in school is currently receiving a lot of public attention.