After a three-week deliberation, the Milton School Board apologized to former athletic director candidate LeVar Barrino, citing inconsistent communication tactics.
Trustees read a prepared statement at Monday’s meeting, focusing on a need to reconsider their hiring process and schedule a community forum on race.
Monday marked the fourth meeting residents attended over the past month to air accounts of racism in Milton schools. It was the first meeting without former trustee Jennifer Taylor, who resigned Saturday indicating the same desire for transparency as residents have for weeks.
Trustees engaged in a more open dialogue than in recent weeks, yet community members again left feeling the board lacks action and understanding.
“We would like to address the concerns the board has heard from the community regarding perceived racism in Milton schools,” Donna read toward the end of the five-minute long statement.
The word “perceived” alarmed attendees. They questioned how the recent onslaught of personal anecdotes and witness accounts of racism aren’t considered fact. Trustees responded saying investigations of racism allegations are not always brought to their attention.
Vice-chairwoman Karen LaFond noted in the midst of a football hazing scandal two years ago, much of the community supported the high school and its administration. The board is just now seeing a storm of safety concerns, she said.
Perhaps another word could replace “perceived,” LaFond concluded. She said the main takeaway is the board wants to have a forum on race.
The statement explained the district and board’s apology letter to Barrino, who Donna said received ambiguous communication between the board and superintendent Ann Bradshaw on whether he was still a candidate for the job.
“We regret the frustration this caused, and, on behalf of the district, we extend our heartfelt apologies to you for this error,” Donna wrote to Barrino.
After trustees tabled Barrino’s appointment on June 12, he received a letter from Bradshaw stating the news.
“I wish you every success in the future,” Bradshaw wrote.
According to Barrino’s attorney, Elizabeth Miller, he read the last phrase with a “pretty direct understanding” his candidacy was over, so he moved on, she said.
Donna called him in for an interview on June 22, the day after publicly stating the board tabled his appointment until trustees gathered more information. Barrino declined to respond, and neither side is pursuing his candidacy going forward, Miller said.
The district will continue its search for an AD, but it has not defined what that process will entail. Naming an interim is a possibility, trustees said.
Recognizing the board’s hiring process is “deficient,” Donna said the district is working to align its policies with the Vermont School Board Association’s.
Residents asked to be a part of the conversation, adding they want the district to continue using hiring committees and seek public input.
LaFond welcomed people to join the board in developing tactics at upcoming communication committee meetings.
The board’s statement extended gratitude to Barrino for handling the situation with professionalism and “admirable character,” as he was “thrust into a public discussion which he did not seek to join.”
Some community members questioned this, saying the board’s praise for Barrino’s silence coincides with oppression-related practices.
Donna again touched on the board’s responsibility to keep personnel matters confidential.
“We genuinely understand the frustration many feel as we try to balance the laws and individual privacy concern with a public desire for transparency and, while we may not always strike that balance perfectly, we endeavor to always keep the best interest of this community at heart,” Donna read.
She said the district is continuously working toward providing a safe and inclusive environment for all kids. This includes analyzing results from a cultural audit performed last year by Dr. Anthony Muhammad, which Bradshaw said is an internal working document.
Donna said the district understands there is still work to be done, which residents want completed immediately.
A date has still yet to be set for a community forum on race but will occur sometime in August, trustees said. They’re asking for the public to tell them what days and times would work best. Monday, residents told trustees to simply set a date and they’ll be there.
To truly get to the core of the race issues in Milton and reach as many residents as possible, educator Joe Smith recommended having 10 community forums, not one.
A facilitator experienced in diversity issues will moderate the forum, Donna said, ensuring a “productive and healing dialogue.” School board members will take part in the conversation, rather than lead it.
MHS 2009 graduate Katrina Battle asked trustees to share what they’ve learned about culture and race over the last month of public outpour, and what they’ve done to educate themselves.
In addition to listening to Vermont Public Radio’s recent piece on racism in Vermont schools, Donna said she did some extracurricular research. She read an excerpt from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s diversity initiative that she found particularly interesting.
“All lives have equal value, and every person deserves the opportunity to lead a healthy and productive life,” Donna read from the Gates’ initiative.
The statement offended several meeting attendees, who recognize the “All Lives Matter” movement as one that downplays Black Lives Matter’s focus on systemic oppression.
MHS teacher and hiring committee member Karen Hammond had a quote to share, too, but from Dr. Muhammad. It’s not the board’s hiring practice that caused the issue – rather, it’s the culture of mistrust between trustees and community members, she said.
“Culture eats structure for breakfast,” she read.