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Forum opens door to conversations on racial equity in schools

Event is first step in ongoing dialogue on race and racism in district.

Board of Education President Sandra Alberti prefaced last Tuesday’s community forum, Exploring Race and Racism at MTPS, with a request from the more than 100 people on the event’s Zoom call to both expect and accept leaving the discussion without closure on the topic at hand.

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Alberti stressed that it would take more than one night to find solutions to racial equity within the district, but she asked for the public’s trust that the board and district are committed to change. 

“I assure you we are making every effort to be engaged in this in the long run,” she  said.

The forum was the first in what the district is calling a series of dialogues on race. The Moorestown Board of Education and administration were joined by representatives from two township advocacy groups: Moorestown Alumni for Racial Equity & Inclusion (MAREI), a multicultural group of past graduates advocating for racial equity and inclusion within the school district; and Moorestown Alliance for Diversity and Equity (MADE), a group of parents and residents with a shared interest in addressing issues of equity and racial disparity in the schools.

The forum was open to the public and served as an opportunity for community members to hear about the work taking place and offer feedback of their own. Alberti walked attendees through some of the district’s demographic data.

During the 2018-2019 school year, the district consisted of approximately 68 percent White students, 6 percent Hispanic students, 6 percent Black students,  12 percent Asian students and 6 percent mixed-race students. Alberti also discussed differences in student achievement on state assessments when broken down by race. 

In 2019, 77 percent of white students met or exceeded state assessment expectations on the English Language Arts (ELA) assessment, while 62 percent of Hispanic students and 51 percent of Black students did so. On the mathematics assessment, 72 percent of White students met expectations, while 56 percent of Hispanic students and 34 percent of Black students did so.

 

Alberti called the data stark, emphasizing the scores reflect work that needs to happen going forward.

Quinton Law, a member of MAREI, said while segregation may feel like “a relic of the past,” its legacy persists to this day and Moorestown is no exception. 

“Our town in particular is one that lives with the aftermath of segregation; that aftermath is one of differential disciplinary treatment, gaps in student achievement and disparate opportunities for advancement,” Law noted.

He added that the issues extend beyond the classroom and manifest themselves in the micro-aggressions faced by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) Moorestown residents as they go about their days. Law also said MAREI is committed to identifying long-standing issues within Moorestown schools and generating practicable solutions. The goal has always been one of cooperation and collaboration. 

“The essence of our mission is to reveal the painful realities of racism and inequality within our district, and to do what we can to remedy them,” Law explained. 

Thus far, MAREI has submitted a 35-page foundational document to the district offering 14 concrete steps it can take. They include hiring more BIPOC teachers, dedicating someone in an administrative role to coordinate district efforts on behalf of its diverse student population, adding new books to classroom libraries and encouraging students to get involved in leading the way toward a socially responsible environment.

Daniela Riggins, co-leader of MADE, said following the Black Lives Matter protest in town, a group of parents and residents connected through the  Facebook page of MooreUnity and began a dialogue about issues of racial equity in the schools. 

Those conversations transformed into brainstorming about actions that could  improve the lives of all Moorestown students. Out of that, MADE was formed. Since then, its members have met with board officials, the superintendent, teachers, MAREI members and others within the district for conversations about district willingness to address equity issues. 

“We see ourselves as an organization in the community dedicated to holding the district accountable to this work; we recognize it is not a sprint,” Riggins said.

Following the presentations, attendees joined breakout groups that were assigned a topic to discuss. Some of the subjects included representation in the curriculum; safe places for students to share concerns about racism, hiring and retention of diverse faculty and fair treatment of all students from a disciplinary perspective. Attendees were asked to discuss the topic at hand and have one person submit notes to provide the board with feedback from the talks. 

Law said from here, members of MAREI, MADE and the district plan to have another meeting to go back and report how the forum went, as well as discuss policies and the next steps forward. 

Law added that overall, he was impressed by forum turnout. He said having more than 120 people on the Zoom call demonstrates that the town cares about issues of racial equity and wants to see change. Now, he wants to see the momentum keep going. 

“This is a great first step in the right direction.”

 

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