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Proposals To Fight Racism Adopted By School Trustees

Proposals To Fight Racism Adopted By School Trustees image
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The Aun Arbor Board of Education last night adopted recommendations to combat racism in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. The steps, contained in a report presented by Human Relations Ombudsman Robert Potts last week, were recommended by School Supt. W. Scott Westerman Jr. The superintendent, with a few exceptions, was highly supportive of Potts' report. The trustees adopted. the recommendations in a 7 to 2 vote. Trustees Robert Conn and Ted Heusel voted against the motion to implement the program. Both said they agreed with the majority of the recommendations but said they could not support the entire report. Included in the board's action was the authorization of $2,500 for immediate implementation of some of the recommendations. It was decided that the more costly proposals would be considered during discussions of the 1971-72 budget. Westerman said the black curriculum commission was a vital part of the report in his opinión and should prove to be of "great merit to the central administration." He also stressed that the commission should be established immediately. Commenting on each individual item of Pott's "Humaneness in Education" report, Supt. Westerman explained that although these were his responses, they also reflected the views and suggestions of other central administrators. In his response, Westerman stressed the recommendation that "broader participation of blacks in the decision-making process" was essential to have a stronger "black perspective" in the system. He strongly supported all of the recommendations concerning the placement of black staff in positions of authority. Supt. Westerman was also highly supportive of the recommendations for student involvement, including determining policy, program changes and teacher recruitment. "It is the duty of this school district to lead students," said the superintendent, "and how can we lead them unless we have their in-put?" He said it was ridiculous for some members of this community to say that the schools "are turning too much over to the kids", because in order to have any type of meaningful leadership the schools must take the pupil perspective into consideration. "There is also the training aspect" 1 Westerman said. "We can't expect these I students to become the leaders of the I future unless we offer them some I experience in this direction." I Westertnan also recommended the I immediate review of the cases of I sions and suspensions recently before I the board and said the review would I include all presently classified I ed suspensions." I He supported the proposal that an ■ obiective body be invited to particípate I in this review, such as the State Board 1 of Education, Michigan Civil Rignts 1 Commission or the Ann Arbor Human Rights Department. Westerman did not give support to the proposal that the director for secondary education be a black person. "There is no question in 'my mind that this is an affirmative action, but to assign a racial prerequisite may cause legal difficulties , " the superintendent said. Naming several positions that wiü soon be available within this district, including that of superintendent, Westerman told the board the only prerequisite should be "a competent person" and the board should start an intensive search for black candidates for all of these openings. i .... "The black community may interpret this reservation as an attempt to avoid the appointments of blacks and this may become true unless a vigorous route as I recommended to search out as many black candidates as possible is made, Westerman said. Westerman also expressed his reservations about the section of Potts' report stating, "The section of the discipline policy regarding suspensions and expulsions be suspended and immediate revisions be made of the entire document." Although the superintendent told the trustees he was aware that this recommendation did not mean that students should not receive penalties, he said, "I can't prescribe to the recommendation until we find alternative to the present policy and can afford to implement them." In regard to the request that a new policy be the joint product of the community and the school, Westerman explained that during the formation of the present policy invitations were issued to various segments of the community but in many cases there was no response until the policy was finally documented and accepted by the board. I The motion to accept the report and I Westerman's administrative response I was made by Trustee Richard Wood I who stioulated that the board be kept informed of the cost of ïmplementing me program. Because of the possible cut in state aid to the school district, Westerman pointed out to the board that any reduction in funding will require "serious reconsideration of the entire operation, but the $2,500 for implementatioa of the report will go untouched". Trustee Paul Carrington said, "This I was an excellent presentation by the I superintendent and ultimately some of these proposals will compete with other Idemands of the district." But Trustee I Carrington questioned the aspect of senIsitivity training, saying he wasn't sure Ithat the expense of these programs are worth their lack of effectiveness in many cases. The entire report on combating racism was all presumption and no fact, according to Trustee Robert Conn. "To set down a list of rules and regulations is worthless unless the people support them," Trustee Conn said. Several reservations were raised by Trustee Heusel who said and agreed with the goals of the report but had some reservations. "At what point does it no longer I become an issue to hire more black I staff," he asked, "and who is the black I community?" Trustee Heusel said he I has seen so many elements within the I black community that the people he may I term as "leaders" may not be. I Trustee Heusel also criticized the I proposal regarding the discipline policy i saying, "Why do we have to keep on changing policy? I'm in full agreement with it as it is now." Giving his full support to the report, Trustee Wood said, "As a white trustee I have seen time after time a growing misunderstanding between this board and the black community. I look at this program as a framework for dialogue with blacks and I feel our acceptance indicates a commitment beyond $2,500 . . it represents a commitment of objectives." But he also told the board that combating racism and implementing the recommendations will be an impossibihty if there is no strong community support or if the district doesn't have the funds". Trustee Henry Johnson said these recommendations will mutually benefit whites as well as blacks. He also said he had disagreement with some of Westerman's reservations. "Let's not get hung-up with budgets and view this report a just a beginning of a long, serious endeavor," Trustee Johnson said, "because although the sickness of racism may not be as serious in Ann Arbor as in many other school districts in this state, it still has had a lack of commitment to provide 1 equal education to all students."