The grandmother of a student spoke out about an “inappropriate and unacceptable teacher comment” during the public comment section of the Mashpee School Committee meeting on Wednesday night, August 21.
Renée Lopes-Pocknett described a situation that she said was relayed to her by her 12-year-old granddaughter, in which a teacher described skin colors that are “too dark” as “unattractive.”
The committee did not respond. School committee chairman Geoffrey Gorman referred the complaint to the school district’s superintendent, Patricia M. DeBoer, saying the issue fell outside of the purview of the school committee.
Reading from what she said were her daughter’s words, Ms. Lopes-Pocknett described a situation around 2:50 PM on June 14 on a Quashnet School playground. Her granddaughter and three other children were talking about their suntans when teachers commented, Ms. Lopes-Pocknett said.
The teachers said that being too dark would be unattractive and that everyone has good skin color and it shouldn’t get any darker, Ms. Lopes-Pocknett read.
“She said she had a friend who got so tan in the summer that she could only see the whites of their eyes and their teeth and that was too dark and that was unattractive,” Ms. Lopes-Pocknett said.
She went on to say that she had brought the incident to administrators’ attention on June 19 and that her daughter had struggled with the teacher all year.
Responding by email yesterday, Ms. DeBoer wrote, “The incident brought up in public session last night was fully investigated in June and necessary action steps were taken to help prevent it from happening again.”
“We thought the teacher was bullying her,” Ms. Lopes-Pocknett said, noting that she had spoken with the school about the teacher on several occasions. “We were told ‘no’.”
“My issue is how does this happen in 2019 and 2020?” she asked.
“My question is when does the school committee need to know if there’s something so racist or egregious to people of color in their schools? When is it a concern to the school committee and what can be done about it so that my kid, my grandkid, my next set of kids and all of my friends’ and family’s and community people’s kids that are a little too dark will get equal treatment?”
“We cannot let any child go through that kind of pain, no matter what color they are, we need to as a system, do something about it,” Joan Tavares-Avant said. “Find a way, write policy, work with parents.”
The committee briefly discussed the comments and questions posed by Ms. Lopes-Pocknett and Ms. Tavares-Avant.
“There is nobody at this table who does not agree about the need for that kind of thing,” Mr. Gorman said to Ms. Tavares-Avant.
After Ms. Lopes-Pocknett and Ms. Tavares-Avant had left, committee members discussed how they would respond to personnel issues that are brought to them by the community but fall outside the purview of the committee.
Mr. Gorman suggested that “we provide those individuals with basically some kind of notification that we have received their complaint, or their comment, or their feedback, whatever it may be, that we defer as necessary to the person who is responsible for those personnel decisions, which would be Patty,” he said, referring to Dr. DeBoer.
“The only time that would be different would be if a complaint was being made about the superintendent, which would remain in our purview,” he said. “After we have passed it onto Patty there is no reason for us to be involved at all in the investigation.”